Dr. Stephen Malone

University of Washington Department of Earth and Space Science

Predicting Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions:
What Can and Can't Now Be Done?

Predicting disastrous earthquakes and volcanic eruptions is a major goal of earth science research. What is the current state-of-the-art in making such predictions?  An apparent paradox is that, while volcanic eruptions can often be predicted using earthquake data, there is currently no scientifically valid method of predicting earthquakes, despite claims often made in the popular press.  A valid and socially useful prediction is one that includes size, place and time in more detail than can be expected from random chance.

This talk will cover some successful predictions of volcanic eruptions and compare these to some previous attempts at earthquake prediction.  What is fundamentally different about earthquakes that make them so hard to predict?  What are some promising avenues of research such as "remote triggering" of earthquakes and the newly discovered Episodic Tremor and Slip (ETS) that may lead to success in the future?

Finally, while not true prediction, how could earthquake early warning technology be used today to mitigate some earthquake hazards? Will accurate earthquake forecasting be possible in the near future or will we forever wonder when the next big earthquake will occur?

View video of Dr. Malone's Lecture at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) on April 20, 2010

The lecture is divided into 7 video clips that are approximately 10 minutes long:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7

About Dr. Stephen Malone




·            B.A. Physics, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA  (1966)

·            Ph.D. Geophysics, University of Nevada, Reno, NV  (1972)




·       Research Professor Emeritus, University of Washington (2007 - )

·       Director of Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (1992 – 2007)

·       Research Professor, Dept Earth & Space Sciences, University of Washington (1985- 2007)

·       Senior Res. Associate, Geophysics Program, University of Washington (1975-1985)

·       Research Associate, Geophysics Program, University of Washington (1972-1974)

·       Graduate Research Assistant, Seismology Lab.  University of Nevada


While Dr. Malone has formally retired as Director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN), as a Research Professor Emeritus he continues to be active in studying volcanic earthquakes, deep tremor and seismic network operations. Earthquakes associated with volcanic processes have been a major research interest of his for the past 38 years. He was the principal scientist responsible for the seismic monitoring of Mount St. Helens and was very involved with the seismic predictions of its recent eruptions. He also seismically digs into the volcanic conduit systems at other Cascade volcanoes trying to understand how they work. With the reported discovery of deep non-volcanic tremor in Japan around 2000 he instigated a program at the University of Washington to study this phenomenon in Cascadia and continues to participate in field work, data analysis and interpretation of these strange signals. Having led the transition of the PNSN from a small, local analog seismic network to a large, sophisticated digital network Dr. Malone continues to advise and consult on matters of network operations.


Other Positions/Activities:

·      President of the Seismological Society of America (2003-2005)

·      Pacific Northwest coordinator, Advanced National Seismic System (2001-2006)

·      Vice President of the Seismological Society of America (2001-2003)

·      IRIS Executive Committee (2000-2003)

·      Board of Directors, Seismological Society of America (1996-2002)

·      Advanced National Seismic System Steering committee. (1999-2000)

·      Council National Seismic System: Vice-chairman & Chairman (1995-1999)

·      Committee on Seismology of the National Research Council (1995-2000)

·      Associate editor of the Journal of Volcanology (1989-2006)


Selected Recent Publications

· La Rocca, Mario, Wendy McCausland, Danilo Galluzzo, Steve Malone, Gilberto Saccorotti Edoardo Del Pezzo, Array measurments of dep tremor signals in the Cascadia subduction zone.  Geophy. Res. Let., doi:10.1029/2005GL023974 2005

· McCausland, W., S. Malone, and D. Johnson, Temporal and spatial occurrence of deep non-volcanic tremor: From Washington to northern California, Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, L24311, doi:10.1029/2005GL024349, 2005

· Malone, S.D., Volcanic earthquakes at Mount St. Helens: evidence for a stick-slip seismic source, Annual meeting of the Geological Society of America abstract volume, abstract 96158, 2005

· Rubinstein, Justin L., John Vidale, Joan Gomberg, Paul Bodin, Kenneth C. Creager, Stephen D. Malone, Non-volcanic tremor driven by large transient shear stresses, Nature, 448,2  doi:10.1038/nature06017,  2007

· Mario La Rocca, Danilo Galluzzo, Steve Malone, Wendy McCausland, Gilberto Saccorotti,† and Edoardo Del Pezzo, Testing Small-Aperture Array Analysis on Well-Located Earthquakes, and Application to the Location of Deep Tremor, Bull. Seis. Soc. Amer,  98,2  620-635  2008

· Johnson, Jeffrey B., Stephen D. Malone, Ground-coupled acoustic airwaves from Mount St. Helens provide constraints on the May 18, 1980 eruption, Earth Plan. Sci. Let. 258 16-31,  2007

· Malone, Steve, A Warning about Early Warning, (Opinion) Seis Res Letts. Vol 79,5, 2008

· Qamar, Anthony, Steve D. Malone, Seth C. Moran, William P. Steele, Weston Thelen, Near-real-time information products for Mount St. Helens – Tracking the ongoing eruption, in A Volcano Rekindled: The Renewed Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 2004-2006, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1750, 2008.

· Moran, S.C., S.D.Malone, A.I. Qamar, W.A.Thelen, A.K. Wright, J. Caplan-Auerbach, Seismicity associated with renewed dome building at Mount St. Helens, 2004-2005, in A Volcano Rekindled: The Renewed Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 2004-2006, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper1750, 2008.

· Mario La Rocca, Kenneth C. Creager, Danilo Galluzzo, Steve Malone, John E. Vidale, Justin R. Sweet, Aaron G. Wech,  Cascadian tremor located near plate interface constrained by S minus P wave times, Science V323, 620-621, 2009