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September 4, 2020

Artificial intelligence may help predict earthquakes and volcanoes

Researchers using deep learning have found subtle signals of an impending event were there in the overwhelming amount of data before a deadly Greenland landslide. With funding from the National Science Foundation, the team found small quake clusters can't hide from AI.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Ready to rumble.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: filtered voice) Greenland. June 17, 2017. 11:39 pm. (Sound effect: large rumbling sound) A massive landslide creates a tsunami (Sound effect: heavy surf) heading across a bay and devastating a small fishing village. Four are killed. Buildings and homes washed into the sea. Were there clues this was about to happen? Yes. Could they have been pieced together in time to make a prediction? Not by humans.

Researchers at Rice University believe the solution may be artificial intelligence. Their new study shows how we may someday be able to use deep learning -- AI -- to accurately predict seismic events like earthquakes (Sound effect: rumbling) or volcanic eruptions (Sound effect: volcanic eruption).

To test their algorithm, the team used data that had been collected by a nearby seismic station prior to the catastrophic event. The analysis revealed previously unseen, weak but repetitive rumblings that increased and accelerated starting nine hours before the slide. The kind of subtle signals AI can quickly identify in an overwhelming amount of data.

The team says although promising, the method is not ready to predict earthquakes just yet but marks the beginnings of a new approach -- applying machine learning to the study of geophysics.

I'd consider that (Sound effect: loud rumble) an 'earth-shaking' breakthrough.

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