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Geologists Say California May Be Next 258

Posted by timothy
from the you-can-find-yourself-after-the-quake dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Newsweek reports that first there was a violent magnitude-8.8 event in Chile in 2010, then a horrifically destructive Pacific earthquake in New Zealand on February 22, and now the recent earthquake in Japan. Though there is still no hard scientific evidence to explain why, there is little doubt now that earthquakes do tend to occur in clusters: a significant event on one side of a major tectonic plate is often — not invariably, but often enough to be noticeable — followed some weeks or months later by another on the plate's far side. 'It is as though the earth becomes like a great brass bell, which when struck by an enormous hammer blow on one side sets to vibrating and ringing from all over. Now there have been catastrophic events at three corners of the Pacific Plate — one in the northwest, on Friday; one in the southwest, last month; one in the southeast, last year.' That leaves just one corner unaffected — the northeast. And the fault line in the northeast of the Pacific Plate is the San Andreas Fault. Although geologists believe a 9.0 quake is virtually impossible along the San Andreas, USGS studies put the probability of California being hit by a quake measuring 7.5 or more in the next 30 years at 46 percent, and the likelihood of a 6.7 quake, comparable in size to the temblors that rocked San Francisco in 1989 and Los Angeles in 1994, at 99 percent statewide."
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Geologists Say California May Be Next

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  • by jack2000 (1178961) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @08:30AM (#35541324)
    Where are our floating cities, we've been promised floating cities and flying cars. I want my god damned flying car!
    • by mangu (126918)

      I want my god damned flying car!

      Ok, here [google.com] it is.

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @09:18AM (#35541532)

      Where are our floating cities, we've been promised floating cities and flying cars. I want my god damned flying car!

      Research performed by Larry Niven suggests that we need at least two unrelated forms of superconducting material to have minimal redundancy in the power distribution subsystems, preferably four unrelated forms for quad redundancy.

      • by MarkvW (1037596)

        Thanks. I couldn't complete my Niven studies because the third Ringworld book sucked.

        • How dare you say the N**** name in vain! Infidel.

          And on a more serious note, read "Destiny's Road". It will reignite your love for hard SF.

    • I would think the Pacific North West would be more likely as it's a more dangerous megafault like the one off the coast of Japan, that would be likely to trigger a Tsunami in addition to a large quake. Plus it's over due according to records.
  • A broken clock... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Computer_kid (996105) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @08:35AM (#35541340)
    ...is right twice a day! If you keep saying it enough, and it inevitably happens, then you can claim that you "predicted" it.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      By that logic, I guess we can tell the health inspectors to knock if off because all their predictions of food poisoning outbreaks are just a statistical probability.

      Seriously, people like you that suggest that these predictions aren't useful because the time frame is so long are a part of the problem. Had the Japanese heeded the warnings about nuclear reactors of that variety in an area that's subject to earthquakes, they wouldn't have spent the last week or working to avoid a major catastrophe.

      I'm sitting

      • The timing is tricky tho. The Tsunami risk was raised two years ago and didn't get traction.

    • Yep, Consider doomsday in general. What is the optimal ammount of time for a doomsdey prophet to get his message out? He needs time to build a following, get buzz, donations, etc. When it doesn't come true he fades into the background with a modest take. If it does come true, he/she can cash in big. IIRC, Jean Dixon did this with the Kennedy Asassination. I'm not sure how she worded here prediction, or what the timeframe was; but a lot of people believe she predicted it. That got her a lucrative hor

  • by CrackedButter (646746) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @08:39AM (#35541360) Homepage Journal
    The link doesn't explain why the San Andreas fault can't have a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Can anybody please explain what makes this fault line so special or immune to such devastation? I'm of the belief anything is possible. Especially when I have my Snake Plissken eye patch ready for some over the top action sequences.
  • At least the San Andreas fault line runs inland, so the likelihood of getting the double whammy like the one that hit Japan is fairly remote.

  • I would think the Yellowstone caldera is a more frightening prospect and more worth mentioning than the San Andreas. They both seem to me to be pretty much closely connected and one is likely to set off the other. But it never gets mentioned, probably because the prospect of the western half of the United States going through a Krakatoa-like event is rather harrowing and would drive people away from the Northwest (which for those people wouldn't be a bad idea).

    • Re:Yellowstone (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cpu6502 (1960974) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @09:13AM (#35541518)

      >>>both seem to me to be pretty much closely connected

      First Yellowstone is a VOLCANO not an earthquake. It doesn't have any connection to the Japanese or California tragedies. Second, it has been mentioned multiple times on cable channels like National Geographic, Discovery, and History.

      Third, it only happens once every tens-of-thousands of years. Last time it happened, Mammoths were still the dominant species in america. (Man had not yet arrived.) Fourth it makes little sense to discuss an event that is predicted to happen circa 10,000 or 20,000 A.D. By that point human beings might have self-exterminated or developed forcefields to contain the blast.

      And (babylon) Five..... if it did happen tomorrow, there's nothing you could do to prepare for it (like moving away). Yellowstone blowing-up would basically exterminate everyone in the US/Canada, unless you were lucky enough to live upwind of the event, like British Columbia, Yukon, or Alaska. Therefore no reason for government to "prepare" for something that cannot be escaped. Even if you lived in Europe, you can expect a "year without a summer" like happened when Krakatoa blew up & dimmed the sun.

      Yellowstone Supervolcano is one of those events, like an asteroid strike, which really cannot be avoided, or prepared for. It has global impact.

      • by Golddess (1361003)

        >>>both seem to me to be pretty much closely connected

        First Yellowstone is a VOLCANO not an earthquake. It doesn't have any connection to the Japanese or California tragedies.

        That sure is some nice selective quoting you've got there. Would be a shame if something were to happen to it... :P

        both seem to me to be pretty much closely connected and one is likely to set off the other.

        Now I'm not saying an earthquake is capable of setting off a volcano, but your apparent avoidance of why GP thinks of San Andreas and Yellowstone as "pretty much closely connected" makes me question your motivations for posting in the first place.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        First Yellowstone is a VOLCANO not an earthquake. It doesn't have any connection to the Japanese or California tragedies.

        No connection except the earth, you mean, multi-account troll-boy.

      • If the 2012 movie taught me anything, it's that any disaster can be prepared for....except for maybe a movie with a really horrible plot line. There's nothing really to prepare you for that.
      • ...on cable channels like National Geographic, Discovery, and History

        Now known as SyFy 2.

    • Re:Yellowstone (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dunega (901960) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @09:21AM (#35541536)
      This week's scaremongering by the media is brought to you by earthquakes. They did volcanos about a year ago.
    • by khallow (566160)
      I was in New Mexico when the Loma Prieta quake hit south of San Francisco. I recall watching the quake on the news. I don't recall digging trenches through meters of ashfall, which I think I would remember. So maybe Yellowstone caldera and the San Andreas fault don't have a particularly tight coupling. In fact, I glanced at the large quakes for the US, and there's no dicernable connection [wikipedia.org] at all between large earthquakes in the two regions.
    • Your chances of getting a super-volcano prediction correct in any given century are much greater if you predict 'no' than 'yes.' There's no reason to think it will erupt with this. It didn't last time.
  • The New Madrid fault (along the Mississippi River) is about to pop. It has a history of extremely violent earthquakes. None of the structures built near it were designed with tremors in mind. Ill bet there are Nuke plants along it.

    • by confused one (671304) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @09:44AM (#35541626)

      And the nuclear plants will be fine. If you check, there were 4 power plants, each with multiple reactors, near the site of the Japanese 9.0 quake. All of those reactors shut down normally and survived the earthquake.

      Only one of those sites is having any trouble -- and it is only because an 8m tall wall of water topped their tsunami protection wall (it was designed to stop a 6m tsunami). The water knocked out their connection to the power grid, flooded their backup generators AND the backup backup generators. It also damaged many of the electrically driven pumps. Fukushima Dai-ichi is a rare case where, due to an essentially unforeseeable event, a single cause destroyed the primary power connection, primary cooling pumps and all of the backup systems simultaneously.

      You can be sure that once the situation in northern Japan is stabilized, changes will be made. Now that they know an 8m tsunami is possible they will upgrade all of the tsunami barriers over the next decade or two.

      • by Lehk228 (705449)
        i have heard some speculation from people who know a lot more about nuke plants than i do that the facilities took more damage from the quake itself then is being told, cooling should have been restored by now if the problem was powering the pumps or even getting a new pump in place, they were saying pipes may have broken either directly from the shaking or from pressure surges, rendering parts of the cooling system unrecoverable without rebuilding.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      A interesting RFI for Pre-Packaged Commercial Meals mentioned the New Madrid Fault System
      https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=eaea338540a0aea155a48a650a077352&tab=core&_cview=0 [fbo.gov] (Jan 20, 2011)
      "...FEMA request for Information is to identify sources of supply for meals in support of disaster relief efforts based on a catastrophic disaster event within the New Madrid Fault System for a survivor population of 7M...."
      36 months of remaining shelf life upon delivery.
      http://www [reuters.com]
    • by 517714 (762276)
      Nuclear power plants in the US are designed to withstand the anticipated ground motions. This link http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread674273/pg1 [abovetopsecret.com] points out the presumed issue, but read the responses. So here's a ridiculously alarmist link for those who lean that direction: http://www.sott.net/articles/show/225939-15-Nuclear-Reactors-on-New-Madrid-Fault-Line [sott.net]
  • Investment (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19, 2011 @08:51AM (#35541420)

    Hello!

    I am currently forming an investment group that is buying land around Carson City, NV and all along the Nevada and California border. With the next earthquake, our analysts expect California to drop into the Pacific making all of our land BEACHFRONT!

    Yours,

    Lex

    • by Mspangler (770054)

      "buying land around Carson City, NV and all along the Nevada and California border. With the next earthquake, our analysts expect California to drop into the Pacific making all of our land BEACHFRONT!"

      You might want to check out the location of the Walker Lane first. The future beach may not be where you think it will be. But in the long run you should have beaches on both sides of the rift, which would give you double the profit, minus anything lost at the bottom of the graben.

      The short version is draw a l

    • Hello!

      I am currently forming an investment group that is buying land around Carson City, NV and all along the Nevada and California border. With the next earthquake, our analysts expect California to drop into the Pacific making all of our land BEACHFRONT!

      Yours,

      Lex

      If I help you out, will you give me my own city? I shall call it: San Fierro!

  • Big earthquakes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dogmatixpsych (786818) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @08:53AM (#35541432) Homepage Journal
    Geologists also believed a 9.0 earthquake virtually impossible from the location where the Japanese earthquake happened: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/japan-earthquake-surpise/ [wired.com]

    People have been predicting a big California earthquake for many years. Yes, it'll happen at some point but if you're really worried about it then don't live in California (or the Pacific Northwest).
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      People have been predicting a big California earthquake for many years. Yes, it'll happen at some point but if you're really worried about it then don't live in California (or the Pacific Northwest).

      And/or be prepared and don't live in a structure which will come down on you, like the one I'm in now probably will. But we could be building with shipping containers etc structures that will not come down in essentially any earthquake.

    • by Solandri (704621)
      IANAS (I am not a seismologist), but I did study earthquake-resistant building construction safety as part of my structural engineering courses, which involved a fair amount of info on earthquakes and expected degree of shaking.

      Geologists also believed a 9.0 earthquake virtually impossible from the location where the Japanese earthquake happened: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/japan-earthquake-surpise/ [wired.com]

      I don't really buy that. It was a subduction zone. All subduction zones are capable of huge

  • does anybody else remember the house cat flu episode from simpsons? "We're here to come up with the next phony baloney crisis to put Americans back where they belong - in dark rooms, glued to their televisions, too terrified to skip the commercials."
  • Economist Article (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19, 2011 @08:59AM (#35541456)

    There was an article in the Economist on this issue this week. The potential for a really big Earthquake lies further north off the cost of Washington State and British Columbia.

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/03/megaquakes

  • Some states will do anything to get out of paying their bills....

  • Are we going to be treated to a live feed of the greatest disaster movie of all time? Come on, Big Media, it'll be worth it!

  • "Though there is still no hard scientific evidence to explain why, there is little doubt now that earthquakes do tend to occur in clusters"

    "Fucking plate tectonics, how do they work?"

    Hint: It's moving in more then one direction at any given time. Think of them as slowly spinning instead of moving linearly (though they do move gradually westward due to the rotation of the earth too).
  • I suspect that the next 'big one' is more likely to be offshore of Washington or Oregon, on the Cascadia Subduction Zone [wikipedia.org]. The San Andreas fault zone is a strike-slip type which is more commonly associated with quakes up to about 7. The Cascadia zone is a subduction type (between three plates, just to make it interesting) where one plate is riding up over another, that is associated with quakes up to 9 or even 10. This is the same type as the one off Japan. It has historically had a big quake about every

    • I think people in the area are likely not prepared at all. I lived in Vancouver BC (Canada) and while its not "on" the coast, any major earthquake in the northern US especially in that magnitude is sure to have many consequences.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      "The last one, on January 26 1700 IIRC (that would be 350 years ago...."

      New math, or did I REALLY sleep in this morning?

    • by hedwards (940851)

      To be honest, the possible tsunami here isn't worth worrying about. Puget sound is largely isolated so unless the earthquake is somewhere in the Salish sea, it's not going to directly affect us. And if it is in that body of water, the amount of time it takes to react will be a lot more than we've got. Even if folks start runnning for high ground immediately.

  • Ardra's return is imminent! It's the only way to explain the quakes!

  • by clyde_cadiddlehopper (1052112) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @10:13AM (#35541784)

    There have been FIVE magnitude 8.5 or greater mega-quakes since 2004. This seems odd since there have only been two dozen of these bad boys since the 1700s.

    Hmmmm. We're just coming out of the deepest solar minimum in the last century or more. Wonder if other mega-quakes happened around solar minima? Yup. November 1755 (Lisbon), November 1833 (Sumatra), August 1868 (Arica Peru), November 1922 (Valenar Chile), March 1964 (Prince William Sound Alaska), February 1965 (Rat Islands Alaska). Could there be a link between the solar cycle and plate techtonics? Think interplanetary magnetic fields and remember that we're riding big plates that float on a molten spinning magnet.

    Step 1: Get a list of reaaallly big quakes since the 1700s. 8.5+. The interplate kind, not the run-of-the-mill intraplate stuff. You can find a list here. [wikipedia.org] Or get a fuller list of historical quakes at usgs.gov.

    Step 2: Get the monthly sunspot numbers since records were kept. The Royal Observatory of Belgium has a data set here. [sidc.oma.be]

    Step 3: Note the correlation between mega quakes and low sunspot numbers. The median sunspot number is 47, the median sunspot number at the time of 8.5+ quakes is 23. (Same when you move the hurdle down to 8.3+ and include a lot more earthquakes) Make an x-y scatter plot in OpenOffice Calc or MS-Excel. Visually note how many occur within a few months of solar minimum.

    Step 4: Recall that the next solar minimum is due in ten years.

    Steps 5-9: ...

    Step 10: Profit!

    • by SwedishPenguin (1035756) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @11:32AM (#35542176)

      IANA Geologist, but I doubt there's any reliable data on earthquakes from the 1700's. Human settlement was much less widespread at the time as well so many earthquakes may not have affected many people or anyone at all, thus there was no one around to tell the story, and there were no seismometers so any Richter scale estimates would probably be based on damage to human settlements, which could have been far from the epicenter.

      • I doubt there's any reliable data on earthquakes from the 1700's.

        Thank you.

        There is no reason to doubt the actual occurrence of the listed events in the 1700s: they really happened and the dates are well established. Granted the magnitudes are educated guesses, but these megaquakes left a significant trail in the geological record. Your doubt more likely rests on the possibility there were unrecorded megaquakes that snuck by without notice. I personally doubt that megaquakes would have gone unrecorded after 1750 (when sunspot records began) anywhere on the planet exc

    • by __roo (86767) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @11:35AM (#35542194) Homepage

      It's very likely that there were more than eight 8.5+ magnitude earthquakes before 1900. The Wikipedia you reference says "(est)" after those quakes because reliable global earthquake monitoring only started in the last century. Those eight quakes are famous and, deadly, and most importantly, directly affected (and killed) Europeans. The magnitudes were estimated from historical records.

      There were certainly many more large earthquakes between 1700 and 1900, but they weren't recorded.

      A little more info on large quakes (including references to the sources for the data on large earthquakes since 1900) here, if you're interested: USGS list of 8.5+ magnitude earthquakes since 1900 [usgs.gov]

      • ...

        There were certainly many more large earthquakes between 1700 and 1900, but they weren't recorded.

        ...

        It is useful to note how we happen to know about one of the great earthquakes that occurred during this period - the last great Cascadia quake on Jan. 27, 1700. We know about this one because of the "orphan tsunami" [usgs.gov] that hit Japan that day. It was a tsunami of historic proportions that appeared without warning due to a distant great earthquake. The evidence conclusively points to a Cascadia subduction zone quake up to Magnitude 9. Without the Japanese observation of the tsunami we might not know about this

    • There have been FIVE magnitude 8.5 or greater mega-quakes since 2004. This seems odd since there have only been two dozen of these bad boys since the 1700s.

      Since we only have accurate magnitude data since roughly 1900, you're just blowing smoke.

      Could there be a link between the solar cycle and plate techtonics?

      Since solar minima happen regularly, and earthquakes happen constantly - it's pretty easy to cherry pick and 'prove' anything you want. Given the number of large earthquakes which you ignore

  • by david.emery (127135) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @10:35AM (#35541904)

    When we lived in the Pacific Northwest, I paid attention to the predictions/analysis of the Pacific/San Juan de Fuca (SJF) plate boundary. The predictions there are for a really big earthquake associated with the boundary. As I recall (and I hope some geologist will correct me if I get it wrong), the San Andreas fault is a lateral slip fault, the plates slide against each other. But the SJF fault is a buckle(?) fault. Instead of sliding laterally, the pressure builds up as the plates collide by pushing into each other, like pushing the fingers of your hand against your palm, keeping your fingers straight. Eventually, your fingers slip and kinda "sproing," creating a Really Big earthquake. Historical evidence indicates this happens fairly frequently and when it does, the resulting quake and tsunami are doozies!

    We have friends in both Seattle and Vancouver, I hope I'm wrong...

    • Well it's going to happen eventually, even if it's not the "big one" this article is predicting, the fact is that the SJF subduction zone has an extremely violent earthquake, on average, every few hundred years. And there was a big one in 1700 [wikipedia.org]. The average is 500 years, so maybe we can get along until 2200 before the next one. Maybe not. But it will happen eventually.
      • by MS (18681)
        The probability the big one will happen in 2200 or in 2011 is exactly the same. 500 years is only an average. Like with dices where the propability is one out of six, but that doesn't mean, every sixth throw gives the same number - all numbers are allways equally possible no matter what the previous numbers were.
    • by Grishnakh (216268) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @03:01PM (#35543468)

      I know this is rather extreme and probably rather expensive, but isn't there something that can be done to prevent or lessen earthquakes by relieving the pressure along the fault line? Perhaps a series of bombs buried along the fault, detonated simultaneously or in sequence, to cause a small earthquake instead of allowing the pressure to build up so much? Even if it were an expensive project, it'd be a lot cheaper than allowing Seattle and Vancouver to be laid waste.

  • The author's only claim to being a geologist is a college degree in Geology he earned in the 60s [simonwinchester.com]. For the last 50 years, this guy's been a novelist. So where's the research that says that California is _due_ for an earthquake _because_ of the other massive quakes along the Ring of Fire?
  • California could experience a 8.0 or greater easily. Remember, where the Japan quake struck a 9.0 wasn't "supposed" to happen. Now, we know for certain the Juan de Faca subduction zone, responsible for the Cascade range of Volcanoes is capabable of 9+ magnitude earthquakes and the devastating Tsunamis that follow. The last such even was recorded in Japan about 350 years ago and they occur every 300-400 years. We can tell from the rock record. I can say with almost 100% certainty that the US Pacific Northwe
  • Put that in Google and read away.
    Forget about the San Andreas, this is where the big ones come from.
    Fortunately not too often.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascadia_subduction_zone
    http://earthquake.usgs.gov

  • Not only does the Pacific plate go nowhere near Chile (the Nazca plate intervenes)... There's a hell of a lot of border of the the Pacific plate that doesn't go anywhere near California *and* hasn't had a big quake recently. (Ever heard of the Aleutian Islands?)
     
    This just taking what we already knew (that California is at severe risk for a Big One) and wrapping it in unsourced journalistic hype.

  • Everyone hold on to that land in Arizona, looks like it's going to be ocean front property soon.....

    no one said it before me? /. What are you coming too.

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