NASA alarmists predict 99.9% probability of LA earthquake in 3 years, but US Geological Survey is sharply critical

A new NASA paper published in Earth and Space Science claims that “For a M ≥ 5 earthquake within a circle of radius 100 km, and over the 3 years following 1 April 2015, the probability is 99.9%”.

But the US Geological Survey was very quick to criticise the methods and the conclusion.

NASA was once an unimpeachable science source. No longer. That brand value has been badly impaired. There is far too much exaggeration and hype. There are peripheral sections of NASA which seem to revel in alarmism. This is especially visible when they pontificate about areas which are not their core business. Just because the radar or aerial or space based images may originate with NASA, some think it gives them a pondus on subjects they are not expert on. Perhaps it is also the chase for publications and notoriety from some sections of the organisation who feel their work does not get enough publicity. NASA statements about potential natural disasters always seem to be highly exaggerated for effect. This includes storms, hurricanes, climate change and now earthquakes. Even when they do have something to say they tend to overdo the hype (as with the recent press conference about Martian water). The alarmist theme is encroaching even into the core areas. Have you noticed how many recent asteroids have been highlighted as “not being any danger”? Reverse psychology being applied by NASA perhaps, to inject some alarm into situations which have not the slightest danger and which otherwise would have passed unremarked?

Naturally NASA issued a press release. However, even the NASA PR machine had not the cheek themselves to highlight the main conclusion which is in the discussion section (Section 5) of the paper:

The calculated probability for a M ≥ 6 earthquake within a circle of radius 100 km, and over the 3 years following 1 April 2015, is 35%. For a M ≥ 5 earthquake within a circle of radius 100 km, and over the 3 years following 1 April 2015, the probability is 99.9%.

A 99.9% chance is as close to certainty in a prediction that one could ever get. But the US Geological Survey was not amused by these upstart alarmists. It took to Facebook and was sharply critical and has been quick to publish a severe put-down.

USGS Statement on JPL La Habra Study in the news:

This paper claims a 99.9% probability of an earthquake of magnitude 5 or greater occurring in the next 3 years within a large area of Southern California without providing a clear description of how these numbers were derived. The area—a 100 km radius circle centered on the city of La Habra—is a known seismically active area. For this same area, the community developed and accepted model of earthquake occurrence, “UCERF3”, which is the basis of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Maps, gives a 3-year probability of 85%. In other words, the accepted random chance of a M5 or greater in this area in 3 years is 85%, independent of the analysis in this paper.

While the earthquake forecast presented in this paper has been published in the online journal Earth and Space Sciences, it has not yet been examined by the long-established committees that evaluate earthquake forecasts and predictions made by scientists. These committees, the California Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council, which advises the California Office of Emergency Services, and the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council, which advises the U.S. Geological Survey, were established to provide expert, independent assessment of earthquake predictions.

The earthquake rate implied by the 99.9% probability is significantly higher than observed at any time previously in Southern California, and the lack of details on the method of analysis makes a critical assessment of this approach very difficult. Therefore, the USGS does not consider the analysis presented in this paper a reason to change our assessment of the hazard.

http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2015/3009/

“Therefore, the USGS does not consider the analysis presented in this paper a reason to change our assessment of the hazard” effectively says that the USGS does not think this paper has any significance. 

One wonders – from the USGS comments – how this paper got to be published. The peer review applied for this paper seems a little suspect. None of the “peers” came from the USGS apparently. Was it just a “pal” review? In recent times, in my perception, many of the peripheral NASA sections publish papers with little substance just to say “Look how good we are“. I suppose they are deemed necessary to maintain department budgets.

Outside of its own core areas, NASA is strongly in the alarmist camp. They probably thinks it helps funding. But perhaps NASA needs to take stock of the damage being done to their brand every time they choose the alarmist route.

I think I will go with the US Geological Survey in this case and their more nuanced probabilities over 30 years.

US Geological Survey 30 year Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast

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