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article imageThe big one: California's future earthquake probabilities

By Christopher Wager     Jul 4, 2010 in Science
California has a 99.7 percent chance of having a 6.7 magnitude earthquake or larger. Johnny Carson once made a joke when he said "Things are looking up California; the mud slides are putting out the forest fires."
California, Los Angeles - For some folks living in California, this hits a little too close to home. If over the last few months the state hasn't had its share of problems, with the financial crisis, now they have to worry about earthquakes.
Earthquakes are anything but new to the natives. What makes this different is the timing, says the Southern California Earthquake Data Center (SCEC) in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), California Geological Survey (CGS), and the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) which have concluded after much study that in the new forecast: California has a 99.7 percent chance of having a 6.7 magnitude earthquake or larger during the the next 30 years. The likelihood of a more powerful quake of 7.5 magnitude in the next 30 years is 46 percent. Such a quake is more likely to occur in the southern half of the state than in the northern half. This information has been released in the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF) report put out by the group in 2007. (Southern California Earthquake Data Center, 2009)
This report went on to say that the probability of a 6.7 magnitude earthquake or larger over the next 30 years striking the greater Los Angeles area is 67 percent and in the San Francisco Bay Area is 63 percent, similar to previous estimates.
The greater ability of groups of scientists like these are in forecasting the probability of earthquakes, the more time the authorities will have to warn people of the danger. In addition, the greater impact it will have on insurance rates and other monitory institutions including greater safety precautions used in building fortifications and estimating losses. The report did go on to say that in comparison to flipping a coin or guessing the weather the probability of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake or greater striking somewhere in California is approximately 2 percent per year. Take whatever comfort you can from that.
Another important point the report made is California will experience earthquake ruptures of different magnitudes but not the shaking that will be caused by these quakes. This is an important distinction, because even areas with a low probability of fault rupture can experience shaking and damage from distant powerful quakes. (USGS, 2010)
This last earthquake reported on May 25, 2010 measuring 2.6 is a sobering reminder to those living in California and other parts of the country with more than 1,156 reported according to the science for a changing world website using the ANSS backbone system to bring seismic information to the public that complacency can be deadly. As the old saying goes; Luck favors the prepared. Having an earthquake plan and supplies is always a good idea in the event of one. The folks over at the website have put together information needed to prepare for "The Big One". "Los Angeles vs. the Big One" (USGS, 2010)
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