Fear in Cali: The big one could happen due to new fault line “creeping”


At any moment, an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or higher could ripple through California, leading infrastructure to topple, power to shut off, and buildings to collapse. Scientists expect to experience this “Big One” in their lifetimes — though they’re not sure where or when.

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. The fault is capable of producing a magnitude 8 earthquake, though it’s currently moving at a slow, continuous pace — a process known as “creeping.”

The reason for this sudden change, 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.

LA TIMES reports:

“This is surprising, because we’ve never seen the Garlock fault do anything. Here, all of a sudden, it changed its behavior,” said the lead author of the study, Zachary Ross, assistant professor of geophysics at Caltech. “We don’t know what it means.”

A large quake on the Garlock fault has the potential to send strong shaking to the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita, Lancaster, Palmdale, Ventura, Oxnard, Bakersfield and Kern County, one of the nation’s most productive regions for agriculture and oil.


While it’s unclear whether the destabilization brought by the Ridgecrest earthquakes to the surrounding area will cause further big earthquakes, the Times notes that an earthquake along the Garlock fault could shake the region’s nearby oil and agriculture hubs, along with military bases. A magnitude 8 earthquake has the potential for grave disaster.

“The whole state of California would feel this one,” Ross says, noting the effects would be worse than the Ridgecrest quakes. “The direction of the shake will be more intense and felt over a larger area.”



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