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Part of Hall of Planet Earth.
Seismologists have long sought ways to predict earthquakes, but so far no reliable methods have been found. Occasionally, a series of small earthquakes announces the coming of a larger one. In 1975, cities and towns near Haicheng, China, were evacuated shortly before a series of small tremors that preceded the large quakes that destroyed most of the buildings. But the majority of earthquakes, like the deadly one that decimated T’ang Shan the following year, strike unannounced, causing tragic loss of life.
What are the odds?
Scientists often try to estimate the odds of an earthquake’s happening over a given time period. They do this by determining where faults have ruptured most recently, and the extent of displacement. When one segment of a fault fails, seismologists expect neighboring segments to break before the original one breaks again. Thus, segments that have remained inactive longer than others are considered to be the likeliest candidates for the next rupture.