Fact Check

No, It Is Not Possible to Predict an Earthquake

A Dutch “researcher” nonetheless claimed to have predicted an earthquake in Turkey in early 2023.

Published Feb 9, 2023

Updated Feb 9, 2023
 (VOA/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via VOA/Wikimedia Commons
Earthquakes, such as the ones in Turkey and Syria in February 2023, can be scientifically and accurately predicted.

Scientists say it is possible to use data to estimate the probability of earthquakes in areas where they are known to occur, but no one has been able to make a credible prediction so far.

In early February 2023, a major earthquake hit parts of Turkey and Syria, leading to a death toll of 19,000 (as of this writing) that steadily rose as rescue efforts continued. As news about the earthquake spread, so did disinformation about supposed predictions surrounding this tragedy. 

Frank Hoogerbeets, a Dutch man claiming to be a "researcher" of seismic activity, stated that he had predicted this event. In a tweet he wrote: "As I stated earlier, sooner or later this would happen in this region, similar to the years 115 and 526. These earthquakes are always preceded by critical planetary geometry, as we had on 4-5 Feb."

Hoogerbeets appears to be associated with an organization known as Solar System Geometry Survey (SSGEOS). The same organization also tweeted out a claim that there was "Potential for stronger seismic activity in or near the purple band 1-6 days. This is an estimate. Other regions are not excluded." The region appeared to be around India and Pakistan. 


These claims of predicting earthquakes are false and have no basis in scientific fact. We debunked Hoogerbeets' claims back in 2017, and other false earthquake predictions before. 

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) categorically states that earthquakes have never been predicted before. Their website says, "Neither the USGS nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake. We do not know how, and we do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future. USGS scientists can only calculate the probability that a significant earthquake will occur (shown on our hazard mapping) in a specific area within a certain number of years."

They point out that any predictions must define three elements: " 1) the date and time, 2) the location, and 3) the magnitude." 

Hoogerberts' claim that the earthquake was predicted from "critical planetary geometry" is contradicted by the USGS' major criteria. They state that "earthquakes have nothing to do with clouds, bodily aches and pains, or slugs" and rely only on "scientific evidence."  

The role of planetary alignments in earthquakes has long been rebuffed by scientists. Back in 2017, we spoke to Andrew Michael, a geophysicist with USGS, who said in a statement to Snopes that alignment-based predictions are "easy to refute." He told us:

Seismologists have spent a lot of time searching for the effect of lunar tides on earthquakes. While the lunar tides are easy to observe in the oceans and even in the deformation of the solid earth, finding their impact on earthquakes requires the statistical analysis of large data sets in order to find a small effect. Even then the results are controversial due to disputes over the statistical methods and how to handle the statistical impacts of earthquake clustering such as aftershocks. Overall, the moon doesn't have a large enough effect on earthquakes to be used for forecasting.

Now we turn to the gravitational forces of the planets. The force is proportional to the mass of the first body times the mass of the second body divided by the square of the distance between them. The earth's mass is a constant and so we can easily compute the relative gravitational force of the other planets by knowing their masses and distances from earth. Jupiter, at its closest approach, has almost 1% of the moon's gravitational attraction, Venus comes in next at 0.6%, and the other planets are less. If we can barely observe the affect of the Moon on earthquakes then it isn't believable that we could observe the impact of the other planets.

But this researcher doesn't mention tides or gravity. He discusses resonances. In astronomy orbital resonances are due to gravity and so my discussion applies. However, it could be that he means something else. If that is the case, then the prediction may fall beyond the boundaries of science and my ability to comment.

Many of Hoogerbeets' claims also fall into a pattern that manages to be both specific and general at the same time, something USGS argues is common in alleged quake predictions. For example in this particular tweet, SSGEOS claims a broad swath of land will see an earthquake within a specific range of time ("1-4 days"), while adding, "This is an estimate. Other regions not excluded." Excluding other regions opens up the prediction to even more interpretation and allows someone to claim being correct just with an estimate. 

This falls into the pattern described by USGS as "so general that there will always be an earthquake that fits; such as, (a) There will be a M4 earthquake somewhere in the U.S. in the next 30 days. (b) There will be a M2 earthquake on the west coast of the U.S. today." 

Susan Hough, a seismologist in the Earthquake Hazards Program at USGS, told NPR that Hoogerbeets' claims are attempts to gain attention for "scattershot statements and predictions" that seem to have been borne out. "So, yeah, it's the stopped clock that's right twice a day, basically," she said.

This is not to say that one cannot estimate the probability of earthquakes occurring in specific areas, and then preparing for them. The area in Turkey is the site of frequent seismic activity, where three tectonic plates converge. 

"Turkey's a known earthquake zone. We've known about these faults, we know earthquakes this size are possible," Hough added. She emphasized that the need is for preparedness, and not to focus on predictions.

"One of my colleagues told me years ago that we can predict earthquakes to the extent that we need to," she told NPR. "We know they're going to happen, and we know that certain parts of the world are going to be exposed to them and that we just need to build the environment accordingly." 

The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN), operated by the University of Washington and University of Oregon, detailed past attempts to predict earthquakes:

Along the San Andreas Fault, an earthquake prediction was made in the 1980s for the segment near Parkfield CA considered likely to rupture. Earlier this century it produced a series of identical earthquakes (about M 6.0) at fairly regular time intervals. Using a set of assumptions about fault mechanics and the rate of stress accumulation, the USGS predicted that a Parkfield earthquake of about M 6.0 earthquake would occur between 1988 and 1992. USGS scientists monitored Parkfield for a wide variety of possible precursory effects, but the predicted earthquake did not materialize until 2004, long after the prediction window expired. "Capturing" the magnitude 6.0 Parkfield earthquake in a dense network of instrumentation was a significant accomplishment, providing data to determine whether precursory effects exist (none were found), and give new insights on the mechanics of fault rupture More from the USGS...More from CISN.

The network even mentioned the most successful example of a "prediction," in China:

One well-known successful earthquake prediction was for the Haicheng, China earthquake of 1975, when an evacuation warning was issued the day before an M 7.3 earthquake. In the preceding months changes in land elevation and in ground water levels, widespread reports of peculiar animal behavior, and many foreshocks had led to a lower-level warning. An increase in foreshock activity triggered the evacuation warning. Unfortunately, most earthquakes do not have such obvious precursors. In spite of their success in 1975, there was no warning of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, magnitude 7.6, which caused an estimated 250,000 fatalities.

The group added, "Predictions claimed as 'successes' may rely on a restatement of well-understood long-term geologic earthquake hazards, or be so broad and vague that they are fulfilled by typical background seismic activity."

Scientists have found some ways to give people warnings. USGS has built a system called ShakeAlert that sends a notification to a person's phone and provides 20 seconds to a minute advance notice before an earthquake occurs. The technology uses data gathered from USGS field station sensors that can measure the intensity of the ground shaking. 

But how does one measure the probability of massive seismic disruptions? According to Franklin Wolfe, a researcher at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University:

Timing is the most difficult challenge in the game of earthquake prediction. In fact, two of the theories that inform our (best) predictions could be flawed. The first theory is called Elastic Rebound Theory, which states that the Earth's crust will bend and deform under intense stress until, eventually, it breaks under the strain. Slippage along the break (i.e., an earthquake) allows the rock on each side to rebound to a less deformed state and release the stored energy, allowing the process of accumulating strain to begin anew. The second theory is called the Characteristic Earthquake, which describes how the most studied earthquake-generating faults seem to have distinct segments. These segments repeatedly rupture to produce earthquakes of similar magnitudes after accumulating a similar amount of strain in the intervening period between earthquake events. Assuming these two theories always held, you could predict when the next earthquake would happen based on 1) the location of greatest unrelieved strain, 2) the time since the last earthquake on the fault, and 3) precise knowledge of the fault zone (which we may never achieve for many areas).

Tim Wright of the U.K.-based Centre for Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET) told Al Jazeera that after a large earthquake, a lot of data can be collected and deciphered, and some of it is useful. "We can make calculations about places that are more or less likely to have earthquakes as a result of [another]," he said.  

Wright was awaiting data from a European satellite that will pass over southern Turkey after the 2023 earthquake to figure out how strain builds at known faults, to calculate how much energy could be released in a specific area, and the rate at which it would be released. Even with that information, scientists don't know when the next earthquake could be. "We don't know whether it could be a single magnitude 8 earthquake or ten magnitude 7 earthquakes," he said. 

Michel Bruneau, a professor at the University at Buffalo and earthquake engineering expert, told the Associated Press, "You can still do averages. You can still run statistics. [...] You can say, what's the return period between small, medium and large earthquakes, and then run statistical analysis through all of that." 

"Scientists have tried every possible method to try to predict earthquakes. [...] Nobody has been able to crack it and make a credible prediction," he added

We therefore this rate this claim as "False."


Baker, Colin. "Why Is It so Hard to Predict Earthquakes?" Al Jazeera, 9 Feb. 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2023/2/9/holdexplainer-how-do-earthquakes-happen. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

Chappell, Bill. "No, You Can't Predict Earthquakes, the USGS Says." NPR, 7 Feb. 2023. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2023/02/07/1154893886/earthquake-prediction-turkey-usgs. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

"Earthquake Prediction." Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, https://pnsn.org/outreach/faq/earthquake-prediction. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

"Experts: Earthquakes Can't Be Predicted." AP NEWS, 8 Feb. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/fact-check-earthquake-prediction-262451352553. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

Kasprak, Alex. "Massive Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami Expected by the End of 2017?" Snopes, 27 Sept. 2017, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/indian-ocean-earthquake-tsunami-prediction-2017/. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

"Predicting the Next Big Earthquake." Science in the News, 22 Apr. 2019, https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/predicting-next-big-earthquake/. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

"Why It's so Hard to Give Earthquake Warnings More than Seconds in Advance." Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/02/06/how-to-predict-earthquake/. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.

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