The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them)

Joe McGonegal | Slice of MIT
Friday, January 18, 2019

EAPS alum Lucile Jones, EAPS PhD '81, discusses her new book and how her academic background helped her to write it.

Read and listen to this story at Slice of MIT: Alumni Books Podcast.

“It’s both the best of times and the worst of times for looking at natural disasters,” says Lucile Jones PhD ’81, whose new book The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them), debuted this spring. 

In this alumni books podcast, Jones, the founder of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society and research associate at the Seismological Laboratory of Caltech, says this year was a unique time to publish a book on earthquakes.

(Read the episode transcript.) 

“It’s a time when we both have the ability to better prevent disasters…at the same time the rate at which the big ones are happening in a meteorological realm is increasing because of the disruption of climate change,” says Jones.

A nationally renowned expert on earthquakes who devoted 33 years to the US Geological Survey, Jones says the timing of earthquakes on major fault lines “are best described using a Poissonian distribution, or memory list distribution, which seems to not match what we think how earthquakes happen.”

Despite the enigmatic nature of earthquakes, Jones says there are new opportunities for AI in helping researchers develop better warning systems for major urban populations.

“There are some really interesting questions about whether an earthquake knows how big it’s going to be before it happens or not,” Jones says. “And the information about the size of the earthquake might not be in the earth before it begins. The application of AI is turning into a very valuable tool because we have recorded millions of earthquakes in California since the seismic network was first digitized. And that’s a huge database from which we can train the computer systems to do a better job of getting the information from those waves and turning it into something useful.”

Photo: Gina Ferazzi/Los AngelesTimes.