Is the San Andreas Fault System getting ready to unleash “the big one” on California? Maybe. Scientists have confirmed that they have finally confirmed formerly hypothesized form of movement in the San Andreas Fault, reports Seeker. And the new San Andreas Fault discovery has some people seriously worrying that something big might be on the horizon for the highly active area.
It’s common knowledge that the Earth’s crust moves around a lot around the San Andreas Fault System in California. The fault system itself stretches for an impressive 800 miles, and it marks the boundary where the North American and Pacific plates meet and rub up against one another. One only has to be a student of history to know that the San Andreas is capable of massive destruction, as evidenced by the great San Francisco quake of 1906.
The 1906 San Francisco quake, spawned by movement of the San Andreas Fault, happened on April 18. Between 700 and 2,800 people lost their lives in that seismic event.
The northern San Andreas (responsible for the 1906 quake) notably shook up California residents again in 1989. That quake was known as the Loma Prieta quake, and it happened during Game 3 of the World Series. While it wasn’t as deadly or destructive as the 1906 San Andreas quake, it did kill 63 people and injure over 3,000 more.
What makes the recent San Andreas movement confirmation so notable (and potentially terrifying) is that it was observed along the southern portion of the fault. That area of the fault hasn’t quaked significantly since 1857. The furthest southern portion of the San Andreas Fault hasn’t had a major earthquake since 1690. What does that mean? In a nutshell, the southern portion of the San Andreas has been building up pressure and seismic energy literally for centuries.
Centuries worth of stored energy releasing at once could very well result in “the big one” that Californians have been dreading since forever.
Worry about the destructive potential of the San Andreas Fault isn’t the stuff of pipe dreams and conspiracy theorists’ nightmares, either. Respected seismic experts share the anxiety felt by many members of the general public. Among those experts is Thomas Jordan of the Southern California Earthquake Center, and he let his fears be known in May.
“The springs on the San Andreas system have been wound very, very tight. And the southern San Andreas fault, in particular, looks like it’s locked, loaded and ready to go.”
Despite general worry and profound uneasiness regarding what has been observed along the southern portion of the San Andreas Fault, scientists simply cannot predict earthquakes. Many agree that they will never be able to do so. This means that despite the newly discovered San Andreas Fault movement, scientists don’t know any more after their discovery than before regarding when the next big quake will hit the area.
All they can do is continue to collect data. They can feed it into their computer models, and they can speculate and postulate. But they can’t predict, not with any degree of accuracy.
So while scientists continue to research and gather data, residents of San Francisco and Los Angeles continue to do all that they can do, which primarily consists of waiting anxiously.
The San Andreas Fault is a strike-slip fault. In these kinds of faults, tectonic plates push against each other horizontally. However, in addition to the known horizontal movements of the strike-slip plates, scientists’ models indicated that such faults should also be subject to a small amount of “ongoing vertical motion.” This is precisely the type of motion scientists were seeking and ultimately found along the southern San Andreas Fault. They were able to detect the predicted movements with the help of GPS technology.
Researchers from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, University of Washington, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography have all contributed to the research and independently succeeded in observing the previously hypothesized tectonic movements.
The newly-confirmed movements at the San Andreas Fault aren’t very big. In fact, they are so tiny that they were previously undetectable and have been ultimately determined to be around two millimeters annually. While this doesn’t seem like much, over time, they add up to quite a bit and are currently spread over a large geographic area in the form of “125-mile-wide lobes.”
Researchers are hopeful that their new research, while likely unable to pinpoint exactly when a big quake might hit, may give them some insight into the potential damage that could occur if and when “the big one” strikes the San Andreas Fault.
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