An earthquake is one of earth’s most powerful and disruptive forces. It can destroy bridges and buildings, start week-long fires, and totally shift the geography of affected areas. Those who live in areas across California know this all to well, as they are under the constant threat of destructive tremors. However, new findings may create an even more urgent and frightening scenario.
The San Andreas fault is perhaps the most well-known fault line in California, or even the United States. It is more than 800 miles long and runs nearly 10 miles deep. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the fault is due for a severe quake every 150 years. This means that the San Andreas fault is long overdue for an eruption and could slip at any second.
Julian C. Lozos, an assistant professor of Geological Sciences at California State University, is warning that a joint rupture of both the San Andreas fault and the nearby San Jacinto fault is possible can could produce devastating effects. Lozos says this type of earthquake may have occurred about 200 years ago based on historical data captured by missionaries from north of Los Angeles to San Diego during that time. He theorizes that a magnitude 7.5 earthquake, often called the San Juan Capistrano earthquake, was this result of both faults rupturing at the same time. 40 people were killed during that tremor when a church crumbled and collapsed onto them.
While earthquakes cannot be predicted, these findings are important because they give scientists clues about what to expect from future quakes in the region. Lozos also concluded that “this precedent carries the implications that similar joint ruptures are possible in the future and that the San Jacinto fault plays a more significant role in southern California that previously considered.” This double-rupture scenario is one of the many geological possibilities that could reshape the future of the West Coast for decades to come.
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