- LOS ANGELES - Two
hidden faults capable of unleashing a magnitude-7.6 earthquake have been
discovered off the coast of California's heavily populated Los Angeles,
Orange and San Diego counties, researchers reported Sunday.
- Though there's potential for catastrophe, the chances
are slim. In the worst-case scenarios detailed in the study, the biggest
quakes occur once every 2,100 years on one of the faults - the Thirtymile
Bank fault - and every 8,800 years on the other - the Oceanside fault.
It's possible the faults release their energy in smaller but more frequent
spurts, the researchers reported in the October edition of the journal
- "Because this is new and we can't access it easily,
we don't have the knowledge base yet to decide whether it is going to rupture
in small pieces or in one single event," said study author John Shaw
of Harvard University.
- "The critical issue for hazard assessment is really
just defining the size of these faults," he added.
- "The size obviously dictates the potential earthquake
- A 7.6-magnitude quake would likely cause widespread damage
and injuries. The 6.7-magnitude Northridge quake in 1994 killed 72 people
and caused an estimated $35 billion in damage in Los Angeles.
- The Thirtymile Bank fault runs south from Santa Catalina
Island and the Oceanside fault slices south from Laguna Beach in Orange
County. Both extend south to San Diego and possibly beyond the U.S.-Mexico
- Both faults are the same type that unleashed the Northridge
and 1971 Sylmar quakes. Called blind-thrust faults, they are not clearly
visible on the surface, whether on land or on the sea floor, and are usually
detected when they produce quakes.
- "This is the first concrete evidence that we have
large thrust faults in the offshore region here," said Tom Henyey,
director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.
- "It is a significant finding, if in fact it is the
- Other offshore faults, such as the Newport-Inglewood
and Rose Canyon faults are strike-slip faults, where one side slides horizontally
past the other.
- Thrust faults, where one side moves over the other as
if on a ramp, could pose greater threats because their quakes tend to have
higher vertical acceleration.
- "This tends to be very destabilizing for many types
of structures, including high-rise buildings and other things," Shaw
- And below the ocean, vertical movement might produce
tsunamis that wash over coastal areas, Shaw said. The researchers did not
analyze tsunami potential of the faults.
- The researchers from Harvard and the University of Colorado
at Boulder used data collected by oil companies exploring for petroleum.
The seismic-reflection profiles, created by measuring aspects of sound
from small explosions, are sonograms of the Earth.
- "In this picture, you see the layers of rock, and
in some cases you can see the faults directly," Shaw said.
- The faults have little historical record. Just one magnitude-5.3
quake off Oceanside on July 13, 1986, likely originated on the Thirtymile
Bank fault, the researchers said.
- "We have such a short history with thrust faults,
we just don't know over the long term how these things go," Henyey
- "It's possible you'll get small earthquakes now
and then on these things and then all of sudden the whole thing will just
go in one shot."
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