California’s west coast resides on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where most of the world’s seismic activity takes place. Thousands of earthquakes are detected in the state every year, many of which are harmless low-magnitude events. But California is the site of the feared “Big One”, a seismic event with potentially disastrous consequences for the entire state.
Is California on the brink of the Big One?
The ‘Big One’ is a term used to describe a potentially cataclysmic future earthquake along the San Andreas fault in Southern California.
There is no agreed time on when this will happen, as earth sciences aren’t advanced enough to forecast future earthquakes.
However, there is a consensus an earthquake at the destination is “overdue”.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), scientists have gathered data from the fault line showing it has exceeded the average time between large earthquakes.
However, the USGS stresses the fault line’s activity does not “behave like a clock”.
The last time a major earthquake rocked the fault line was in 1857, and before that 1812.
Recent attention has shifted to another fault line with the potential to cause a catastrophic earthquake, the Garlock Fault, which is also situated in Southern California.
If a stronger earthquake was to hit the region around Garlock, the resulting shocks could destabilise the feared San Andreas fault.
While the Garlock fault has once again sparked fears of a looming “big one” Dr Ross said it serves as a reminder of California’s seismic nature.
He said: “We really have to remind ourselves that California is earthquake country.
“So, it’s not just thinking about the largest, most damaging potential scenarios like events on the San Andreas, but remembering that there’s a potential for hazard pretty much all over the place.”
Another phenomenon researchers have discovered is the presence of “stormquakes”.
While most earthquakes develop as the result of clashes between tectonic plates, a smaller number are caused by something else.
Researchers with FloridaState University trawled through a decade of seismic and oceanic records starting in 2006 and found a direct link between storms and seismic activity.
These earthquakes rumble with smaller magnitudes up to 3.5 on the Richter scale at locations across the Americas, including the Gulf of Mexico, US and Canada.