Southern California fault system capable of 7.4 magnitude earthquakes

Brittany BishopMar 11, 2017

A study released Tuesday by the U.S Geological Survey warns that a 7.4-magnitude natural disaster could strike along the San Andreas Fault - which could impact about 20 million Los Angeles and San Diego residents.

The system runs from San Diego Bay to Seal Beach in Orange County, to the Los Angeles basin. Because the Newport-Inglewood/Rose Canyon fault is never more than four miles from the coast, significant shaking from an natural disaster could have great impacts to the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego.

"Even if you have a high 5- or low 6-magnitude quake, it can still have a major impact on those regions which are some of the most densely populated in California", Sahakian explained.

The last major natural disaster to strike along the Newport-Inglewood and Rose Canyon fault zone was in 1933.

The alarming study was detailed in the most recent edition of the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research.

A fault system in southern California has been mapped in detail, to reveal that it is more extensive and interconnected than realised, and capable of causing larger earthquakes.

Should a rupture, or a slip on a fault that creates enough seismic energy, occur "end-to-end" on the offshore segment of the NIRC fault zone, a 7.3 magnitude event could follow, and a 7.4 quake could result if a northern onshore section is affected. The 19-mile Rose Canyon fault begins in San Diego's Mission Valley and angles past Mt. Soledad and La Jolla, where it also heads offshore.

Up until now the Salton trough fault (STF) managed to remain hidden, despite how well-surveyed and seismically active the state of California is, because it is underwater.

In the last 11,000 years, there have been three to five ruptures at the north end of the fault system.

The analysis revealed that eruption of the offshore segment of the system can produce an estimated 7.3-magnitude natural disaster. The only question is how long it will be before the "Big One" strikes.

"One of the reasons why this location is of importance is because in Southern California, the Big Bend, Carrizo, and Mojave sections of the San Andreas Fault accommodate 50-70% of plate motion".

These contingency plans reflect deep anxiety about the potential gravity of the looming disaster: upward of 14,000 people dead in the worst-case scenarios, 30,000 injured, thousands left homeless and the region's economy setback for years, if not decades. Most scientists believe that stepovers at least 3 km wide are likely to prevent through-going ruptures.

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