- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 23 , 2004 

Shaky Prediction: Statement by seismologist draws alarm, criticism

Alvaro Antonyan says no one should panic about earthquake forecast..

The powerful earthquake that hit the Iranian city of Bam and killed about 35,000 people last month caused controversial comments among Armenian seismologists.

The President of the Armenian Association of Seismologists and Earth Physics invited journalists to a press conference last week to announce that the earthquake in Iran would cause a high seismic activity in the next 12 months in the whole region including Armenia.

"There is clear indication of a new wave of seismic activity traveling across the region," said Sergey Balasanyan, president of the association.

The announcement was criticized by specialists of the National Survey for Seismic Protection (NSSP) who called it "injudicious" and said that "there is no such technique or specialists in the world for precise prediction of earthquakes".

"I respect my colleague Balasanyan and his opinion, but announcements like that have to be done very careful not to spread a panic among the population, especially that the journalists immediately make a sensation from such kind of news," said Alvaro Antonyan, head of NSSP.

When, on January 16, an earthquake ranging from 3-4 on the Richter Scale was registered in the Armenian marzes of Lori, Shirak and Tavush, some media outlets commented the news as an incontestable proof of Balasanyan forecast.

Specialists who did not share Balasanyan's view say his announcement was based on conjecture which coincided with the tremor in Armenia.

"Last year there were registered about 30 similar quakes throughout Armenia," says Antonyan. "And this is normal, taking into consideration that the Armenian Platteau is situated in a very high seismic zone. Meanwhile Bam, which is situated some 1,700 kilometers south of Armenia, is too far for having impact. Earthquake is a disaster which is unfortunately mostly unpredictable; otherwise no country would suffer it."

The officials of the Emergency Management Administration under the Government of Armenia also questioned Balasanyan's prediction.

"Balasanyan is a highly qualified specialist who actually created the seismic service in Armenia. He used to head the NSSP and resigned last year. But his recent announcements were ungrounded and directed to attract attention of media," says Colonel Nicolay Grigoryan, the head of the Emergency Channel Information Center.

"Our organization can not reduce the danger, but we can reduce the consequences of the earthquake for which we work day and night," he says.

The seismologists of the NSSP say that their service has enough capacity to fix the change of seismic activity. However they can not tell exactly when, where and in which strait an earthquake will happen. In case of all indications of earthquake they would announce an emergency situation.

"NSSP is a well organized body, where 750 employees work in 150 stations throughout Armenia and we can check over 40 different geophysical and other parameters. Our equipment allows us to fix even the smallest strikes in each corner of the world and each morning we get reports from our stations about earthquake activity. But we cannot tell exactly when, where and of which magnitude the earthquake will hit," Antonyan says.

For the present, he adds, the only truth that seismologists all over the world share is that powerful earthquakes may repeat in the same place during the next 35-40 years.


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