Obituaries

Vladimir Keilis-Borok, scientist sought to predict quakes; at 92

Vladimir Keilis-Borok had both success and failures in his earthquake predictions.
Wade Byars/The Desert Sun
Vladimir Keilis-Borok had both success and failures in his earthquake predictions.

LOS ANGELES — Vladimir Keilis-Borok, a seismologist who believed that earthquakes could be predicted months in advance, has died. He was 92.

Dr. Keilis-Borok died Saturday at his home in Culver City after a long illness, according to the University of California, Los Angeles, where he had taught since 1998.

The Russian scientist gained prominence after a strong quake in Japan and another in Central California occurred in 2003 within a time period forecast by his international team of seismic experts.

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‘‘Earthquake prediction is called the Holy Grail of earthquake science and has been considered impossible by many scientists. It’s not impossible,’’ Dr. Keilis-Borok said in a statement released in January 2004.

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He then made a bold claim: A quake of magnitude-6.4 or larger would rock a 12,000-sqaure-mile region east of Los Angeles before Sept. 5, 2004, a large swath that includes the Mojave Desert, the Coachella Valley, the Imperial Valley, and eastern San Diego County.

He gave it a 50-50 chance, basing his prediction on a pattern ofquakes recorded in the area in past decades including the magnitude-7.3 Landers earthquake in 1992 and the 7.1 Hector Mine quake in 1999.

But the quake never struck, and critics said he had been lucky in his previous predictions. But Dr. Keilis-Borok still had a few supporters.

Earthquake prediction remains elusive. Scientists are generally pessimistic about ever having that ability and have focused instead on emergency preparedness and advocating for an early warning system.

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Born in Moscow, Dr. Kellis-Borok earned his doctorate from the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. He worked at UCLA from 1998 to 2010, when he retired.