Today, it seems like there are more volcanic eruptions and earthquakes because detection and reporting techniques are so much better. Sensitive seismic detectors tell us about remote tremors half a world away, even if there’s little or no damage, said Erik Klemetti, professor of geology at Denison University in Ohio.
Scientists are getting better at judging the odds of future earthquakes along certain fault zones by determining the stresses and how long it has been since they were released.
“You can make forecasts which are likelihoods, but what you can’t do is say there will be an earthquake next Saturday in Peru,” Klemetti said. “That’s just not possible. Some argue it will never be possible. The science isn’t up to predicting earthquakes.”
Some researchers in Japan and California are testing new kinds of early-warning systems that can give residents a few seconds' head start. They detect so-called p-waves, or primary waves that cause little harm. These are quickly followed by secondary waves, or s-waves that are more powerful.
If forced to live next to an earthquake zone or a volcano, Klemetti said he’d choose the quake.
“Its easier to build earthquake-resistant buildings,” he said.
As for the earthquake v. volcano destruction meter, even though earthquakes have killed tens of thousands of people in recent history, Klemetti votes for a volcano, hands down.
“In terms of destruction, the big volcano is going to win,” he said. “The ash cloud is going to cover a third of the continent. A really big earthquake will be felt in a lot of places but the destructive force will diminish rapidly.”