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  • This timeline lets you see aspects of Frank's life and work, and how these fit into a wider science picture of earthquake forecasting. A full transcript is underneath.

    Frank Evison – geophysicist

    • Changing scientific ideas
    • Advances in science and technology
    • Biography


    Changing scientific ideas

    Each specialised field of science has key ideas and ways of doing things. Over time, these ideas and techniques can be revised or replaced in the light of new research. Most changes to key science ideas are only accepted gradually, tested through research by many people.

    Advances in science and technology

    All scientists build their research and theories on the knowledge of earlier scientists, and their work will inform other scientists in the future. A scientist may publish hundreds of scientific reports, but only a few are mentioned here.


    This part of the timeline outlines just a few events in the personal life of the featured person, some of which influenced their work as a scientist.


    1906 – Elastic rebound theory

    After the San Francisco earthquake, HF Reid develops a theory that earthquakes result from the sudden elastic rebound along a fault, driven by previously stored energy. This theory underpins many long-term forecasts in the years to come.

    1960 – Plate tectonics

    Before the 1960s, it was thought that continents were set in the same position forever. The realisation that the Earth’s plates are dynamic revolutionised the study of earthquakes.

    Find out more about Plate tectonics.

    1965 – Data explosion

    during the mid 1960s significant improvements in technology (particularly in communication and travel) make earthquake data much more uniform and readily available. This makes it much easier to look for patterns and leads to an increase in forecasting efforts.

    1975 – Earthquakes can be predicted

    The predominant scientific view in the 1970s is that earthquake prediction is possible.

    1995 – Earthquakes cannot be predicted

    A less optimistic view prevails during the 1990s, and the international research focus starts to shift from earthquake prediction to damage mitigation.

    2000 – Increasing public demand for information

    The rise of the internet and mobile phone technology increases public demand for information, especially following a large earthquake. This increases pressure on scientists to provide accurate short-term forecasts.

    2006 – New technology renews optimism

    The prevailing view is that earthquake forecasting methods will gradually improve due to new and better data streams (enabled by modern technology) combined with improved understanding of the physics of earthquake generation.


    1900 – Measuring earthquakes

    The first seismograph in New Zealand is installed in Wellington. Seismographs measure and record information during earthquakes.

    Image: 'Modern seismograph', from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966.

    1964 – Evison’s wall

    Creeping faults don’t tend to have large earthquakes. Frank organises the building of a wall across the Alpine Fault to see if it’s creeping.

    Image: Peter Knoop, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

    1964 – Japanese prediction plan

    A 5-year plan with the goal of accurate earthquake forecasting is launched in Japan. Methods to be explored include observation of tides, crustal deformation and seismic activity as well as rock testing.

    1965 – Expansion of seismograph network

    As director of the Geophysics Division of DSIR, Frank organises major upgrade and expansion of New Zealand seismograph network.

    Image: Diag. 2. New Zealand network of seismograph stations', from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966.

    1973 – Interest in precursors

    Frank uses first portable seismographs in NZ to compare mechanisms of main shock and the aftershocks of the Inangahua earthquake.

    Image: GNS Science Limited, Lloyd Homer

    1975 – Rikitake precursors

    Tsuneji Rikitake publishes key paper suggesting use of a variety of geophysical precursors as a strategy to predict earthquakes.

    1975 – Haicheng prediction in China

    Using a sequence of foreshocks, scientists predict the Haicheng earthquake and evacuate the city, saving thousands of lives. Some scientists do not view this as a true prediction – rather, a very lucky coincidence.

    1977 – Precursory swarm hypothesis

    Frank’s first attempt at a forecasting model based on idea that swarms of earthquakes act as precursors to main-shock events. Frank sees predictive potential of these swarms and begins to work with statistician David Rhoades.

    1977 – Predicting earthquakes in the USA

    The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) is launched in the USA with a focus on earthquake prediction techniques.

    1979 – Seismic gap theory – McCann et al.

    A seismic gap is a period of inactivity along a fault that has been seismically active in the past. Many scientists (including McCann et al.) theorise that the likelihood of an earthquake increases with the length of seismic gap.

    1982 – Generalised precursory swarm hypothesis

    Based on a study of Japanese earthquakes, Frank develops a more complex version of his first prediction model. He hypothesises that clusters of precursory swarms of earthquakes are followed by clusters of main-shock events.

    1984 – Code of conduct for scientists

    Frank is involved in the drafting of an international code of conduct for scientists involved in earthquake prediction and becomes even more committed to rigorous testing of prediction models.

    1985 – Parkfield prediction experiment

    Scientists Bakun and Lindh predict that a moderate-size earthquake will occur at Parkfield, California, between 1985 and 1993. (A large earthquake did occur but not until 2004.)

    1997 – Earthquakes cannot be predicted

    Geller et al. publish a paper in Science claiming that earthquakes cannot be accurately predicted. They urge investment in earthquake-resistant structures and tsunami warning systems rather than earthquake prediction.

    2003 – ‘Tail wags the dog’ method

    Vladimir Keilis-Borok and his team at UCLA claim to have successfully predicted two earthquakes in the USA and Japan. A subsequent publicly announced prediction of a large earthquake in California proves to be a false alarm.

    2004 – Precursory scale increase phenomenon

    Frank and David Rhoades publish their work on the precursory scale increase phenomenon. They provide 47 examples of an increase in seismicity before large earthquakes in California, Greece, Turkey, Japan and New Zealand.

    2004 – EEPAS forecasting model

    David and Frank develop the EEPAS (every earthquake a precursor according to scale) forecasting model based on the precursory scale increase phenomenon. The model is tested and later used in operational forecasting in New Zealand.

    2006 – Formation of CSEP

    CSEP (Collaboratory for the Study of Earthquake Predictability) is established and promotes renewed international collaboration and rigorous computer testing of earthquake prediction models.

    2010 – Work continues on the EEPAS model

    David Rhoades continues to apply the EEPAS model to catalogues of earthquakes around the world with the goal of increasing the strength of this model.

    2011 – Scientists on trial in Italy

    Six Italian scientists and one government official put on trial in Italy for manslaughter after failing to predict the 6.3 magnitude earthquake of April 2009 that caused the deaths of 309 people in the Italian city of L’Aquila. In 2012 they were each sentenced to 6 years imprisonment but their convictions were overturned in 2014. Find out more here.

    Image: TheWiz83 via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 GNU Free Documentation License 1.2


    1922 – Frank is born

    Frank Foster Evison is born in Christchurch where he lives with his family until they move to Wellington in 1937.
    Image caption: Roger, Frank and Harry Evison, Christmas 1927

    Image: Harry Evison

    1937 – Life in Wellington

    Attends Wellington College. A love of tramping, skiing and mountaineering develops.
    Image caption: Rusty Rawlings and Frank Evison (on right) on Mount Duff 1951

    Image: Harry Evison

    1944 – Frank graduates

    Graduates from Victoria University of Wellington with a BSc in physics in 1944 and a MA with Honours in mathematics in 1946.

    1939 – World War II

    From 1939-1945 serves in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as the commanding officer of the radar station in Wellington for part of World War II.

    1946 – Travels to Britain

    Initially works at Cambridge and then gains a Diploma from the Imperial College of Science and Technology and a PhD in geophysics from the University of London.

    1949 – Frank marries

    Marries Joan Alpers. They go on to have three children – David, Margaret and Rosemary. Family holidays often involve trips to out-of-the-way seismographs!

    1950 – Joins DSIR

    Joins Geophysics Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) and works in exploration geophysics. Discovers coal-seam guided S waves in 1955 – renamed ‘Evison waves’ in 1985.

    1957 – Research gains recognition

    Gains a Nuffield Fellowship in 1957 and a Fulbright Award in 1963.

    Image: NIWA,

    1967 – Inaugural Professor of Geophysics

    Appointed inaugural Professor of Geophysics at Victoria University of Wellington.

    1971 – Establishes Institute of Geophysics

    Has a vision for an interdepartmental institute with members from geology, physics, chemistry, mathematics and geography departments in addition to members outside the university.

    1970 – Begins research into earthquake forecasting

    Possesses a strong belief that scientists have a duty to society and that reliable earthquake prediction would help minimise loss of life and suffering. Works passionately towards this goal until his death.

    1976 – Collaboration with David Rhoades

    Begins work with David Rhoades, now a statistician at GNS Science. This successful partnership continues until Frank’s death.

    Image: GNS Science

    1979 – International work

    Heads up a UNESCO conference on earthquake prediction in Paris. Helps to formulate a code of practice for earthquake prediction and chairs the Commission of Earthquake Prediction.

    1988 – Frank retires

    Retires as chair of the Geophysics Institute and continues as Emeritus Professor.

    Image: Robert Cross, VUW Image Services

    1990 – Franks wife, Joan dies

    Joan had been Frank’s wife for 41 years.

    1992 – Services to seismology (OBE)

    Appointed as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to seismology.

    2005 – Frank dies

    Passes away in his home in Wellington at the age of 82.

    Image: The Wellesley Club

    2006 – Scholarship established

    Frank Evison Research Scholarship in Geophysics established through donations from Frank’s family, the Earthquake Commission, GNS Science, the New Zealand Geophysical Society and a range of private donors.

    2008 – Evison Symposium in Wellington

    Evison Symposium on Seismogenesis and Earthquake Forecasting attended by national and international scientists. Two special journals are published to honour Frank’s interest in earthquake generation and forecasting.

    Rights: University of Waikato Published 23 February 2012, Updated 27 September 2017 Referencing Hub media
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