Every year, more than 50 thousand people die from earthquakes. Since 1990, earthquakes have been responsible for more than 800 thousand deaths and have left 17+ million people homeless. The annual damage resulting from earthquakes is estimated to be USD 35 Billion. [1] Given the massive impact on human life and economy, can we find a solution that allows humanity to better deal with earthquakes? Is it possible to predict earthquakes? At Produvia, we believe earthquakes can be predicted. We believe that earthquake magnitude and location can be predicted with 99% accuracy.

In this blog post, we will explore how data-driven technologies can solve earthquake prediction. But first, we must better understand earthquakes and their impact on planet earth.

Earthquakes Statistics

Earthquakes release massive energy. Their effects are ground shaking, ground rupture, landslides, tsunamis, and liquefaction. [2] Many factors influence the strength of earthquake shaking including the earthquake's magnitude, the site's proximity to the fault, the local geology, and the soil type. [3] To better understand earthquake energy release as it relates to magnitudes, refer to Figure 1 (below). [4]

Magnitude ScaleFigure 1: The Moment Magnitude Scale

Every year, there are more than 1,000 magnitudes 5-6 earthquakes, more than 100 magnitudes 6-7 earthquakes, and more than 10 magnitudes 7-8 earthquakes. [5] To better visualize earthquakes around the world, see Figure 2 (below). [6]

AnimationFigure 2: Earthquakes of the First 15 Years of the 21st Century

Impact of earthquakes

The effects of earthquakes are vast. Earthquakes impact humans, the environment, infrastructure, ecosystem, economy, agriculture, biosphere, and the planet.

Impact of earthquakes on humans

The impact of earthquakes on the human population can be mortality, injury, and displacement. In the last 30 years, one million earthquake-related injuries were reported and 61.5 million people were affected. The primary cause of earthquake-related death is trauma due to building collapse. The older population has higher rates of death and children also face increased mortality as the result of earthquakes. As the population grows and population shifts from rural areas to urban areas, earthquake impacts on the human population will increase. [7]

Earthquakes also affect the physical and psychological wellbeing of people. People who don't have emergency plans in place get affected the most. Earthquakes can have lasting effects on the psyche. [8]

Impact of earthquakes on environment

Earthquake environmental effects include surface faulting, tsunamis, soil liquefaction, ground resonance, landslides, and ground failure. Environmental effects can be either directly linked to the earthquake source or provoked by the ground shaking. Surface deformation and faulting and shaking-related geological effects (e.g., soil liquefaction, landslides) leave permanent imprints in the environment.

The Environmental effects of earthquakes are divided into two types: primary effects and secondary effects. These effects can be seen in the Environmental Seismic Intensity (ESI) scale was released in 2007. This scale is based on the characteristics, size, and area. [9] To better understand the ESI scale and it's characteristics, refer to Figure 3 (below) [4].

lossyFigure 3: Graphic Representation of the ESI Intensity Degrees

Impact of earthquakes on infrastructure

Earthquakes impact our infrastructure. Infrastructure is composed of public and private physical improvements such as roads, railways, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, and telecommunications. [10] Building design and construction play a large role in ensuring that buildings can withstand earthquakes. The primary cause of earthquake damage to buildings is ground shaking. Conventional buildings often experience massive sharing. Well designed buildings shake less. See Figure 4 (below) for an example of what happens to buildings in an earthquake. [11]

Building Design

Figure 4: Building Designed to Shake Less (left) and Conventional Building (right)

The difference between damage and devastation depends on the magnitude of earthquakes, local geology, and building techniques. The ground condition has a major effect on earthquakes damage. Soft ground, reclaimed land or former landfill amplifies the effect of earthquakes. [12]

Buildings constructed on bedrock often perform well because the ground is firm. Buildings that sit on top of soft or filled-in soil often fail. The greatest risk for buildings is liquefaction, which occurs when loosely packed, waterlogged soils temporarily behave like liquids, causing the ground to sink or slide. The building often slides along with it. [13]

Construction techniques also play a role in earthquake damage. Poor construction technique, where slab walls and floors are not tied together, make buildings more vulnerable to earthquake damage. The choice of building material also makes a difference. The occupants are more likely to survive when the walls and roof are made of lightweight materials. Wooden or steel-framed buildings are generally better than rubble-masonry or brick buildings. The choice of building design also affects whether buildings survive after an earthquake or not. Buildings shake when the frequency of the seismic waves are close to the natural frequency of vibration of the building. This is known as resonance. Buildings that match the resonance frequency of earthquakes are more likely to be damaged. [12]

Earthquakes impact dams and embankments. Dams are usually built in valleys. Failure of a dam due to the earthquake can be seen on people and structures downstream. The loss of control of water supply has a dramatic effect on life and property downstream of the valley. [14] Earthquake effects on dams depend on dam types. Dam structures can be damaged or fail as a result of earthquakes. Earthquake ground shaking can collapse dams. [15] To prevent the rapid release of water from a reservoir during a strong earthquake, the dam must be able to withstand the strong ground shaking. [16]

Impact of earthquakes on ecosystems

Forest, grassland, farmland and other natural or semi-natural ecosystems are the sources of many ecosystems. To maintain human welfare and safeguard the sustainable development of human society, society needs water retention, soil conservation, alternative transportation for product supply, and distribution of material, energy and information flow. [17] Forestry and biodiversity are affected by earthquakes. Here are some of the impacts on ecosystems: [18]

  1. Forest area loss
  2. Encroachment and illicit felling
  3. Non-timber forest product collection loss
  4. Wildlife displacement and death
  5. Increased poaching

Flora and fauna can be damaged by the shocks and shifts in land surfaces, as well as alterations in local hydrologic systems. [19] Plants and intertidal species can change as the result of earthquakes. [20]

Impact of earthquakes on the economy

Let's consider the economic consequences of earthquakes.

Earthquakes have a significant economic impact. Earthquakes are the costliest of natural disasters in terms of overall losses. The financial impact of earthquakes can be classified as [21]:

  1. losses to immovable assets
  2. losses to movable assets
  3. economic losses due to business interruption
  4. public sector economic costs
  5. household income losses due to death, injury, and job disruption

Let's consider the economic impact of the top five earthquakes:

  1. 2011 Japan earthquake - USD 360 Billion
  2. 1995 Kobe earthquake - USD 100 Billion
  3. 1994 Northridge earthquake - USD 44 Billion
  4. 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes - USD 32 Billion
  5. 2010 Chile earthquake - USD 30 Billion

The problem is that homeowners, renters, and business insurance policies do not cover damage from earthquakes. Let's consider earthquake insurance policies in California, United States. Only 13% of California homeowners had earthquake coverage in July 2019, when California was struck by the strongest quakes in 20 years. [22]

Impact of earthquakes on agriculture

Earthquakes cause threats to the livelihoods of farmers and their food security. Earthquakes can cause the loss of animal life, field crops, stored seeds, agricultural equipment or materials, their supply systems or infrastructure. Earthquakes disrupt immediate growing seasons and future seasons. Damage to cities affects rural families as urban-to-rural migration causes food shortages and the consumption of planting materials. [23]

Agricultural livelihoods suffer as a result of earthquakes. Here are some examples of how agriculture is affected [24]:

  1. Crops
  2. Agricultural tools, fertilizer, and labor
  3. Livestock
  4. Irrigation and agricultural infrastructure
  5. Crop needs
  6. Livestock needs
  7. Resilient livelihood recovery

After earthquakes, people lose their food and seed stock, livestock (draft animals), household assets (farm equipment, seed and food stores, cattle sheds) and agricultural infrastructure (irrigation canals, roads, rural power, communication). [25]

While earthquakes damage many subsectors, they affect forestry the most. Earthquakes also affect fisheries and aquaculture. Crops and livestock are least affected. [27] Agricultural impacts from earthquakes most commonly include [26]:

  • contamination of water bodies
  • increased susceptibility to disease
  • destruction of irrigation systems and other agricultural infrastructure

Effects of earthquakes on biosphere

What is the biosphere? The biosphere also is known as the ecosphere, is the worldwide sum of all ecosystems. It can also be termed the zone of life on Earth, a closed system, and largely self-regulating.

How does the biosphere relate to the lithosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere? The biosphere is the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements of the lithosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.

Earthquakes affect the biosphere, the layer of Earth’s surface in which life can exist. Alteration in the biosphere happens when earthquakes or landslides release pathogenic microbes into the atmosphere. [28]

Earthquakes affect the biosphere in many parts, it kills people and animals, it also disrupts the ecosystem and destroys plant life/crops. Due to the Haiti Earthquake of 2010 the water supply and food supply (have) decreased significantly because the soil is taking a long time to produce plants and crops. Half of the people in Port-au-Prince have been left with no access to latrines and only one-third has access to tap water. Haiti was covered in 60 percent forest and now suffers from deforestation with less than 2 percent of forest left today. This lack of trees caused a lot of soil erosion problems which put both food and clean water sources at risk. This further affects the people because if there if the soil is failing, then there is no access to basic life necessaries such as crops and water. This led to the people and animal life dying from starvation and dehydration. Even if there was access to food or water it was highly contaminated which bought on diseases such as Cholera. [29]

Biochemical energy in the subsurface biomes is enough to produce earthquakes. Subsurface microorganisms might produce earthquakes. [30]

Effects of earthquakes on planet

How do earthquakes impact planet earth? Earthquakes can impact Earth's rotation and duration of the day. NASA scientists studying the Indonesian earthquake of December 26, 2004, have calculated that the megathrust earthquake lightly changed our planet's shape, shaved almost 3 microseconds from the length of the day and shifted the North Pole by centimeters. Earthquakes can also affect Earth's shape. The same NASA scientists calculated that Earth's oblateness, or flattening on the top and bulging at the equator, decreased by about one part in 10 billion. Less oblate means more round. The earthquake decreased the length of the day by 2.68 microseconds. A microsecond is one-millionth of a second. Earth spins a little faster than it did before. This change in spin is related to the change in oblateness. It's like a spinning skater drawing arms closer to the body resulting in a faster spin. [31]

Earthquakes cause land changes, landslides, tsunamis, and fires. Land changes occur due to ground shaking and ground ruptures.

Tsunamis are one of the more deadly impacts of earthquakes. The 2011 Japan earthquake unleashed a devastating tsunami, moved the main island of Japan by 8 feet (or 2.4 meters) and shifted the Earth on its axis. [32] See Figures 5 and 6 (below) to better visualize what happened as the result of the 2011 Japan earthquake. [32][33]

Japanese CoastlineFigure 5: Japanese coastline, before (left) and after (right) the 2011 Japanese Earthquake

Japanese Coastline 2Figure 6: Japanese coastline, before (left) and after (right) the 2011 Japanese Earthquake

Earthquake impact is also affected by the seasons and ground conditions. For example, winter earthquakes are more damaging. Alshembari analyzed the 1911 Kemin earthquake and concluded that the "presence of a shallow frozen ground layer that may have inhibited the drainage of pore pressure excess through the surface" could have induced liquefaction at depth. [34]

Predicting Earthquakes

Now that we have an understanding of the impacts of earthquakes, we can evaluate the technological solutions that exist today.

Earthquake prediction is a branch of the science of seismology. Earthquake prediction aims to predict the time, location, and magnitude of future earthquakes. Many methods have been developed for predicting the time and place in which earthquakes will occur. Despite considerable research and millions of dollars spent, seismologists are still grappling at creating scientifically reproducible predictions.

Artificial intelligence technologies are showing promise in predicting earthquakes. Let's analyze the latest research for earthquakes and machine learning.

2020 Research

Jozinović (2020) used a convolutional neural network (CNN) to predict earthquake ground shaking intensity using raw waveform data. The CNN was found to be stable at predicting accurately the ground shaking intensity corresponding to the noise amplitude. [35] Rouet‐Leduc (2020) developed a deep neural network for the detection of quasi‐continuous tremors, also known as slow earthquakes.

2019 Research

Hulbert (2019) used machine learning to map characteristic energy signals from low-amplitude seismic waves to the timing of slow slip events. The authors note that there is a recurrent build-up in seismic energy as the fault approaches failure. [36] Mangalathu (2019) classified earthquake damage to buildings using machine learning algorithms. [37] Mangalathu (2019) used long short-term memory (LSTM) architecture to classify building damage based on textual descriptions of the damage. [38] Jena (2019) developed an artificial neural network–analytic hierarchy process (ANN-AHP) to create an earthquake risk assessment map. [39]]

2018 Research

Perol (2018) built a deep learning model for earthquake detection and location from a single waveform [40] DeVries (2018) developed a neural network to detect earthquake aftershocks. Earthquakes generate changes in geological stress. These changes influence the spatial distribution of aftershocks. [41] Shodiq (2018) used neural networks to predict aftershock during the next five days after an earthquake occurrence [42]. Li (2018) created a generative adversarial network (GAN) to learn the characteristics of first‐arrival earthquake P waves. This model is expected to significantly reduce the number of false triggers from local impulsive noise. The group first trained the GAN to recognize and produce realistic synthetic P waves. Then the group trained the critic as an automatic waveform feature extractor. This output was combined with a Random Forest classifier to be an earthquake P wave discriminator. [43]

What non-traditional data sources can we use to predict earthquakes?

The Human-Induced Earthquake Database (HiQuake) tracks earthquake sequences proposed to have been induced or triggered by human activity. To date, HiQuake features 1,170 projects with reported induced seismicity. These sequences or features include [44]:

  1. Fracking
  2. Mining
  3. Water reservoir impoundment
  4. Conventional oil and gas
  5. Geothermal
  6. Waste fluid disposal
  7. Nuclear explosions
  8. Research
  9. Unspecified oil and gas/waste fluid disposal
  10. Groundwater extraction
  11. Deep penetrating bombs
  12. Construction
  13. Carbon capture and storage
  14. Coal bed methane
  15. Chemical explosions


We live in a data-driven world. We live in an artificial intelligence-driven world. Deep learning or neural network technologies can be used to predict earthquakes with 99% accuracy.

Interested to solve earthquake problems?

Tell us about your project and a member of our team will get back to you. Get started!


This post originally appeared on Medium on March 16, 2020.


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