Earthquakes are unpredictable. Scientists agree that predicting when and where an earthquake will occur and how big it will be is not yet possible. Therefore, much research has focused on coming up with ways to reduce the damage from earthquakes, rather than trying to predict when they will occur. Specifically, finding more information about the subsurface of an area, including where faults—earthquake-sensitive areas—may be located, helps developers and others make safer, sturdier choices when constructing a building. This is where Navakanesh M Batmanathan, a 2017 National Geographic Young Explorer, is focusing his efforts.

M Batmanathan is an earthquake geologist who is currently a research assistant at Southeast Asia Disaster Prevention Research Initiative and simultaneously pursuing his Ph.D. at the National University of Malaysia. He is focusing on mapping the areas surrounding a major earthquake fault in Borneo. The southeast Asian island is held by Malaysia and Brunei in the north, and Indoneisa in the south. Faults are places in Earth’s crust vulnerable to sudden movement between masses of rock, resulting in occasional earthquakes. M Batmanathan is working to map the faults, as well as the infrastructure in the area of the faults, to hopefully reduce the potential damage that can be caused by an earthquake. Developers and engineers can use this knowledge to plan where it is safest to build and where earthquake-resistant structures are needed.

M Batmanathan is using a variety of tools to map faults. Working on the ground to map the area is just one of the methods he employs. He also uses images from satellites and ground-penetrating radar. Ground-penetrating radar, or GPR, is a technology that generates a cross-sectional image of the subsurface without disturbing the soil, eliminating the need to drill into the ground. It has many applications, from determining the depth of the water table to better understanding the composition of soils and rock for building projects. M Batmanathan and others are using this technology to map faults, and the areas around faults, to gain a clearer picture of potential earthquake hazards.

It might not ever be possible to know exactly when or where an earthquake will happen, but M Batmanathan hopes that his work will help educate people and better prepare them for the inevitable.

Explorer Profile: Navakanesh M Batmanathan, Earthquake Geologist

Navakanesh M Batmathan helps identify places vulnerable to earthquakes to help engineers, designers, and planners make buildings to avoid or withstand earthquakes.


rocky outermost layer of Earth or other planet.


the sudden shaking of Earth's crust caused by the release of energy along fault lines or from volcanic activity.


a crack in the Earth's crust where there has been movement.

ground-penetrating radar

method of providing an image of an area beneath the surface of the earth, using sound waves.


structures and facilities necessary for the functioning of a society, such as roads.


object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or made by people.


capable of being hurt.


underground area where the Earth's surface is saturated with water. Also called water level.