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Google, Harvard use AI to predict earthquake aftershocks

Google says that machine learning-based forecasts may, one day, help deploy emergency services and inform evacuation plans for areas at risk of an aftershock.

tech Updated: Aug 31, 2018 15:16 IST
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Harvard scientists team up with Google to predict earthquake aftershocks using AI.(AFP)

Scientists from Harvard have teamed up with tech giant Google for using machine learning to predict where earthquake aftershocks may occur, a move that will help minimise impact of the natural disaster on lives and infrastructure in the coming years.

Earthquakes typically occur in sequences -- an initial “mainshock” followed by a set of “aftershocks.” While these aftershocks are usually smaller in magnitude, they may significantly hamper recovery efforts.

Although the timing and size of aftershocks has been understood and explained by established empirical laws, forecasting the locations of these events has proven more challenging, Phoebe DeVries, Post-Doctoral Fellow at Harvard, said in a Google blogpost.

Machine learning-based forecasts may, one day, help deploy emergency services and inform evacuation plans for areas at risk of an aftershock, she added.

“We teamed up with machine learning experts at Google to see if we could apply deep learning to explain where aftershocks might occur... We are looking forward to seeing what machine learning can do in the future to unravel the mysteries behind earthquakes, in an effort to mitigate their harmful effects,” she said.

DeVries outlined that the teams started with a database of information on more than 118 major earthquakes from around the world, including the one in Bhuj in 2001.

A “neural net” was then applied to analyse the relationships between static stress changes caused by the mainshocks and aftershock locations, and the algorithm was able to identify useful patterns.

“The end result was an improved model to forecast aftershock locations and while this system is still imprecise, it’s a motivating step forward,” she said.

DeVries said the process also helped identify physical quantities that may be important in earthquake generation, which opens up new possibilities for finding potential physical theories that may allow for better understanding this natural phenomena.

First Published: Aug 31, 2018 15:16 IST