Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/541

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By Professor H. H. TURNER, F.R.S.,


THE occurrence of several disastrous earthquakes and eruptions during the last few months inevitably suggests the question whether all these events may not have a common and determinable origin. To avert any of these disasters, even to modify them in the slightest degree, may be entirely hopeless; but the vaguest foreknowledge of their probable occurrence might be of untold value in saving life and property. Has modern research obtained any clues which enable predictions to be made, or promise that prediction may be possible in the near future? It must be frankly admitted that as yet our knowledge is so slight as to have no commercial value; but still, there are one or two clues in the hands of those working at the subject which may ultimately lead them to more directly useful knowledge. We have learnt something of the regions where earthquakes occur, and something of the times when we may specially expect them; and, though the something is in each case a very little, the magnitude of the issues involved lends it interest.

Systematic observation of earthquakes is only about a quarter of a century old, and for fairly complete records of all the shocks occurring in different parts of the globe we can date only from 1892. Before that date information could only be collected on the spot, and was thus frequently lost; but it was realized about 1890 that a series of earthquake observatories, with delicate instruments, could obtain records of shocks in any quarter of the globe, and identify the spot with certainty, even if there were no witnesses of the actual occurrence. From the records of these observatories it appears that there are every year some 30,000 minor shocks of earthquake in different localities, but of these only 60 are 'world-shaking' and observable from a great distance. Such numbers indicate immediately that, from one point of view, the San Francisco earthquake can not be regarded as exceptional; it was only one event out of 60 per annum. What rendered it disastrous was the existence of a great town in the shaken locality. But was the neighborhood known to be a dangerous one? Was it at any rate, suspected, so that the building of a great city there was an error of judgment? and is it advisable to the city in the same place? These are

  1. From the London Times.