California Earthquakes Might Follow Devastating Winter Storms

California has suffered through a series of storms this winter that have flooded the northern part of the state and caused $600 million in damages, and the accumulated rainfall could bring a string of earthquakes.

British geophysicist Gillian Foulger published a study exploring the relationship between heavy rainfall and earthquakes that suggests California could be in store for some shaking later this year, according to the academic research journal The Conversation.

“If water enters a fault, especially under high pressure, it lubricates the fault and can push it open and make it easier for it to move, causing an earthquake.”

Foulger sifted through a worldwide database of human-induced earthquakes to study what really causes the ground to shake and discovered a correlation between heavy rainfall and earthquakes.

“Fault zones invariably contain groundwater, and if the pressure of this water increases, the fault may become ‘unclamped. The two sides are then free to slip past each other, causing an earthquake.”

[Image by David Paul Morris/Getty Images]

Not everyone agrees with Foulger, however, and U.S. geologist Arthur McGarr insists there’s no evidence to support the link between rain and earthquakes, according to the SFGate.

“If there were any sort of discernible relationship between heavy rainfall and earthquake activity I think we would have long since discovered it and reported on it.”

If California does start to shake later this year, it will be the perfect laboratory to research what really causes earthquakes, but it will further damage a state struggling to dig itself out from a damaging winter.

Recent storms have collapsed bridges and buckled highways, leaving the state with a massive repair bill on top of what’s needed to fix the Oroville Dam, where some 200,000 residents were forced to evacuate.

The state is already struggling to repair some 350 roads and several more weeks still remain in the state’s rainy season, and Caltrans officials are worried added rainfall could make the situation worse.

Meanwhile, another earthquake study released by the United States Geological Survey this week predicts more shaking in Oklahoma and Kansas this year because of oil and gas mining activity, according to Popular Science.

“Millions still face a significant chance of experiencing damaging earthquakes, and this could increase or decrease with industry practices, which are difficult to anticipate.”

[Image by Matias Delacroix/Getty Images]

The earthquakes are caused by companies injecting wastewater into the ground, but the practice doesn’t affect the shaking in California where earthquakes are a way of life. Further east, however, the drilling is making the ground shake in areas where it didn’t before the gas companies showed up, and the danger isn’t going away.

Water from previous drilling projects is already in the ground, where it’s lubricating fault lines and increasing pressure underground, meaning the risk of a dangerous quake will remain high for the foreseeable future.

Last year, the residents of Pawnee, Oklahoma, sued 27 energy companies after the largest earthquake in area history was found to have been caused by wastewater injections.

The state, where buildings haven’t been designed with seismic activity in mind, has become earthquake central over the past 10 years as energy companies inject wastewater into the ground.

Scientists still can’t predict when and where specific earthquakes will strike, but chief USGS geologist Mark Petersen is hoping to improve the model researchers use to predict the dangerous shaking, according to Popular Science.

“What we’re trying to do is anticipate where future earthquakes will occur, how often they will occur, and how much the ground will shake. We’re not saying a particular sized earthquake might happen in this area at this particular time.”

[Featured image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

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