“An earthquake is rather unlikely to happen in our country”

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"An earthquake is rather unlikely in our country"

All-clear on earthquake risk in Germany: geography professor Werner Batzing. © dpa

When the earth shook in the night to Monday morning in the Italian Abruzzo and surprised the inhabitants of the city of L’Aquila in their sleep, claimed many lives and caused incalculable damage, the old questions came up again: Can we protect ourselves from earthquakes, can we even predict them? To this end, the geographer at the university, Prof. Werner Baetzing.

Mr. Prof. Batzing, can earthquakes actually be predicted?

Prof. Batzing: No! You can make statements about the probability. One can say that in a tectonically critical area like Italy, the probability of an earthquake is high. Only: what is ‘high’ cannot be seriously predicted in the sense that one commits oneself to a concrete point in time. This may happen in one year, ten years or a hundred years from now. Such a point of time depends on so many different factors that the question of the point of time falls into the area of the mathematical-physical chaos theory – there is no question of ‘calculability’.

Nevertheless, the Italian geologist Gioacchino Giuliani claims that he had already warned a week before, because he had noticed an increased leakage of the noble gas radon. Is this a reliable method?

Prof. Batzing: Well, I am not a geologist, but a geographer, but it is of course also understandable for me that with an increase of the pressure in the earth’s interior this gas always present in lower earth layers is pressed out and thus could be an indication of an earthquake. But it’s like animals that get restless before earthquakes: The human sensorium is simply not sufficient for accurate predictions, and the classical measuring instruments only indicate the quake itself, but not an expected one.

The epicenter of the earthquake is just 600 km away from us. Do we have to worry?

Prof. Batzing: No, not at all! Italy with its location at the intersection of two continental plates cannot be compared with our location in Germany. This is also shown by the fact that there are three active volcanoes in Italy alone. The only real earthquake area we know of in our country is the Upper Rhine Graben with the former volcano Kaiserstuhl. The risk of an earthquake is otherwise many times lower in Germany than south of the Alps. Interview: PETER MILLIAN

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