Located parallel to California’s infamous San Andreas Fault, a new fault line has been discovered by scientists. Named the Salton Trough Fault, it is located near the Salton Sea and just west of the San Andreas.
So far, the scientists have not found any evidence of recent earthquake activity linked to the new California fault line. According to the researchers, the new fault line remained hidden up until now simply because of its remote location and lack of any measurable seismic movement.
It is even theorized that this crack in the Earth may actually be relieving some pressure from the San Andreas. This extra absorption may explain why there has been no major earthquake in the Southern San Andreas in nearly three centuries.
“The extended nature of time since the most recent earthquake on the Southern San Andreas has been puzzling to the earth sciences community,” said Graham Kent, a Nevada state seismologist and coauthor on the new study announcing the new California fault discovery. “Based on the deformation patterns, this new fault has accommodated some of the strain from the larger San Andreas system, so without having a record of past earthquakes from this new fault, it’s really difficult to determine whether this fault interacts with the southern San Andreas Fault at depth or in time.”
While not related specifically to Salton Trough, seismologists recorded almost 200 small earthquakes in the Salton Sea region in a one-week period at the end of September. The discovery of the fault line and the “swarm” of earthquakes have scientists questioning current geological models for the area.
“To aid in accurately assessing seismic hazard and reducing risk in a tectonically active region, it is crucial to correctly identify and locate faults before earthquakes happen,” said Valerie Sahakian, who was the study’s first author.
The recent surge in quakes in the Salton Sea area near San Andreas had many seismologists on edge, fearing the “big one” was about to strike California. One earthquake scenario created in 2008 predicted a magnitude 7.8 centering around the Salton Sea area would cause major destruction throughout Southern California and kill at least 1,800 people. However, the recent seismic activity slowly tapered off and ultimately stopped, much to the relief of earthquake experts.
“Within two weeks, it will probably be back to the background level, assuming we don’t see any additional activity in the swarm,” said Rob Graves, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The San Andreas Fault is approximately 800 miles in length, the longest and most dangerous in California. It is the dividing line between the North American and the Pacific tectonic plates. On average, it unleashes a magnitude 7 or higher earthquake every 200 years.
Earlier this year, seismologist Thomas Jordan made a dire California earthquake prediction. At the National Earthquake Conference in Long Beach, California, he surmised that the San Andreas Fault was “locked, loaded, and ready to roll,” and a massive earthquake was poised to strike anytime.
While predictions about the next big earthquake have been circulating for years, scientists are concerned about the lack of movement in the famous fault line. Data indicate that San Andreas typically relieves pressure every 100 years or so, triggering a minor quake. However, some parts of the fault line have not moved in hundreds of years, including the Salton Sea region where the new Salton Trough Fault was discovered. This increased pressure buildup has many earthquake models forecasting a major earthquake for Southern California any day now.
The study announcing the discovery of a new California fault line was published last week in the journal Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. Scientists from both the Nevada Seismological Laboratory and Scripps Institution of Oceanography took part in the research.
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