Scientists believe they have some encouraging news about how and when to predict earthquakes:
Paris - Geophysicists poring over an earthquake hotspot beneath southern Japan believe massive temblors may be preceded by slow, barely perceptible quakes that can last for days or weeks.
In a new paper published in the British journal Nature, the scientists say the warning signs are buried in tiny seismic signals caused by a slip deep within a fault.
Their focus is on phenomena that lie far below the threshold of human sensation called low-frequency earthquakes (LFEs) and non-volcanic tremor.
Seismologists have until now mainly viewed non-volcanic tremor as a weak shaking of the Earth, and LFEs as a swarm of small temblors, with a magnitude of just one or two, that can last for weeks or even months at a time.
These low rumblings are typically found in subduction zones - the regions on the Pacific's "Ring of Fire" that have unleashed the mightiest quakes on record, say the US-Japanese team, led by David Shelly of Stanford University, California.
As someone who has lived in two earthquake prone areas, I say this can only be good news (although, oddly, the only one I've ever felt was in hte UK).