A fault line in California is moving in part due to the recent earthquakes in the area. Scientists are now expecting “The Big One” to occur in their lifetimes, but they still don’t know exactly when or where the massive and devastating earthquake will strike.
At any moment, an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or higher could vibrate through California, leading infrastructure to topple, the power to shut off, and buildings to collapse. The Big One is expected at any time now.
On Thursday, scientists released a study warning that the Garlock Fault, which runs through the Mojave Desert in southern California, has been moving for the first time on record, according to a report by Science Alert. The fault is capable of producing a magnitude 8 earthquake, though it’s currently moving at a slow, continuous pace. This is a process known as “creeping.”
The reason for this sudden change and the movement of the Garlock Fault, according to the study, was destabilization caused by the Ridgecrest earthquakes in July. Those quakes (a 6.4-magnitude temblor on July 4, followed by a 7.1-magnitude quake the next day) originated along two other fault lines nearby. “We know that faults talk to one another,” Richard Allen, the director of the Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, told Business Insider. “The two Ridgecrest earthquakes were fairly large-magnitude earthquakes and they’re fairly close to the Garlock fault, so the change that they caused in the stress fields would obviously have an impact.”
Scientists say the implications of the fault line’s movement are so far, unknown. This could result in the Big One, or it could be anther minor change that results in nothing. Zachary Ross, the lead author of the recent study, told Business Insider: “If the path that the radar takes is even slightly different, we can tell.” He added that there’s is no way to know what this means. “It’s not really clear what this could mean,” he said. “This was the first time that we’d seen this happen.”
Both earthquakes and creep occur when tectonic plates side slide past each other along a fault. The difference is that creep is slow enough not to produce shaking. In some cases, it can cause the land to bulge, which can damage buildings and infrastructure – but Allen said that’s still preferable to an earthquake. –Science Alert
“Creep is our friend,” he said. “If a fault is creeping, that means there is less movement to be accommodated in an earthquake.” However, creep can also trigger an earthquake. Allen added: “it is absolutely possible that it could trigger an earthquake nearby,” he said. “We don’t understand the physics of the process.”
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