No revival of a bad moon rising, Mr Ring

PAUL GORMAN SCIENCE REPORTER
Last updated 07:57 21/03/2011

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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At the time of writing, there's just a couple of hours to go until midnight and the end of March 20 in New Zealand, and the chances of the kind of history-making earthquake predicted by Moon Man Ken Ring for the city are getting slimmer by the minute.

There was a 5.1 magnitude shake centred 10km east of Christchurch at 9.47pm, right in the hard-hit Aranui area, but even that was within the range to be expected in the current aftershock pattern.

The aftershock was 11km deep.

You can best view a hazy corona encircling a bright moon on a misty night from the corner of your eye. In the same way, try to look directly at (and get straight answers about) the extremely vague quake "forecasts" surrounding Ring over the past few months and they seem to change all the time.

Ring's nebulous and nerve- racking predictions have scared the living daylights out of thousands of Cantabrians who are already out of their minds with worry after the September 4 and especially the February 22 quakes.

The man has a certain following when it comes to weather forecasts and his claims to be more accurate than the scientists. But by assuming the mantle of quake-forecaster he went a step too far and spooked more than just the gullible.

As the seismologists have told us, and as many have figured out for themselves, it doesn't take a genius to predict there will be an earthquake on any certain day in Canterbury given what's happened in the past six months. Those kinds of forecasts are only useful if a location, size and reasonably accurate timing can be included.

Whether there is some truth or not in the moon's gravity being able to exert more pressure on weak rock structures when it is closer to Earth or full, Christchurch residents deserve realistic and scientifically robust information.

While quake prediction is where weather prediction was 150 years ago, there are some things scientists can tell us which help us prepare for what may happen.

For example, going on average aftershock decay curves, we know there is probably at least one more magnitude five shake to come at some stage in the next few months and a dozen or so in excess of magnitude four.

There was certainly some more interesting seismic activity yesterday, with three decent shakes close to Twizel on a fault there early afternoon, unpredicted by Ring.

I'm sure all the Christchurch people who left town for the weekend on his advice and headed to the Mackenzie Basin would have appreciated that.

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