Earthquakes in California May Be the Big One

earthquakesFor people who reside on the coast of California, they have an idea of what “The Big One” in earthquake terminology means: A disaster of epic proportions that scientists proclaim is coming their way. Residents seem to be in the know about that fact, but they cannot possibly know is when the event will happen. They fear an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 or more may be imminent along the many fault lines that run through the coastal region of the Golden State.

A new study conducted by the United States Geologic Survey sheds a distressing light, however, upon the fact that coastal California will more likely be hit with a series of small to medium earthquakes, and not the once-thought Big One that many may have been expecting. The Geologic Survey suggested that the area would most likely expect to suffer instead from several clusters of quakes that would leave behind hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, or more, in its wake.

Northern California could expect to be hit the hardest, specifically the San Francisco Bay Area. Back in 1906, the city was hit with an enormous temblor with a magnitude of 7.8 that left 3,000 people dead and led to a massive fire that destroyed a significant part of the city. It was the most powerful quake in the state’s recorded history.

The city at that time was markedly different in appearance than it is now, with most of the damages in the orchards and farms of the Bay Area. It is thought that this earth trembling had released a good deal of pent up seismic pressure in the fault lines that run through the coastal communities of Northern California.

This area is where two gigantic plates slide along the surface of the earth, where the Pacific and North American plates collide with each other. They are slipping at a very fast rate and are assuming to contribute to the idea that an earthquake in California may be the next Big One. Scientists are saying that the stress put on the crust by such movements is fairly steady and the plates are slipping at a rate of about 40 millimeters, or 1.5 inches, a year. Researchers assure the public that these smaller ground disturbances are what will eventually be The Big One.

The researchers stress that these significant slips along fault lines that run through the northern area of the state cause the smallish earthquakes in the Bay Area. The slips have led many in California coastal communities to think that the experienced earthquakes could be the next Big One. The last Big One, as seen from recent locals, was back in 1989. That undulation wreaked havoc in the form of 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries. It also left behind $6 billion in property damages. The 6.9 quake is thought to have released only a small fraction of the stress level that runs along the fault lines.

Scientists studied what they consider to be very large earthquakes, which range in magnitude 6.6 to 7.8 along the five California faults that run through the area considered to be at risk for the next Big One, over the last 400 years. They found that from the years 1690 through 1776, six very large quakes rumbled through the Bay Area region within the established range for severe seismic activity. After 1776 there was a noticeable decrease in large quake activity along the major fault lines in the Bay Area. Researchers believe that the cluster of upheavals before the 1906 temblor released a great sum of energy that was equal to that which was released in the 1906 disaster.

The United States Geologic Survey has stated that large earthquakes in California could happen every five years, and could hit magnitudes of 6.8 to 7.2, resulting in what some may be calling the Big One. They claim the probability of such a temblor striking the area is somewhere around 63 percent. Yet they also maintain that it will undoubtedly be these smaller quakes that will cause the most damage and produce a high death toll. So as one area hit by an undulation is in the stages of recovery, another area along the fault lines could potentially suffer an earth tremor of severe proportions. It is hoped the study will allow scientists to be able to predict when earthquakes will happen and prevent as much loss of life as possible, and give communities at risk enough time to make preparations before the fact.

Opinion by Korrey Laderoute

San Jose Mercury News
The Wall Street Journal
NBC News

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