Is a massive earthquake coming to California?

by Varsha Rammohan, Reporter

The familiar yet alarming sense of the ground shaking instills in me a sense of panic and fright. I immediately search my surroundings and find cover underneath my desk, hiding there until the shaking finally ceases.

According to the United States Geological Survey, just southern California experiences around 10,000 earthquakes a year. For years, seismologists have been discussing the ‘The Big One,’ a massive quake that has been long overdue in the state. The last major earthquake in California took place in 1857 with a magnitude of 7.9, which created a series of aftershocks that lasted for 3.5 years.

“The average time between these quakes is about 100-150 years. In some cases, the time separation between quakes is as short as 60 years, and in others it is around 300 years,” Robert Graves, a research geophysicist at the USGS, told Newsweek. “This variability is one reason that makes forecasting when the next quake will occur quite difficult. But, it will happen sometime.”

Varsha Rammohan

The San Andreas fault is 800 miles long and runs through the western border of California. It forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. According to seismologists, the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate are sliding past each other, which is causing movement in the San Andreas Fault. This is said to be the cause of the several recent tremors and quakes throughout the state.

“If the plates do slip and it does pop, there’ll be bigger quakes,” Upper school environmental science teacher Jeff Sutton said. As long as there’s little ones as they keep sliding past, then that relieves the pressure between the two plates and helps reduce the chance that a big one’s going to happen.”

In a 2008 study, the USGS determined that there is a 99% probability of a large-magnitude quake hitting the California area over the next 30 years. In response to that, Los Angeles County enacted additional earthquake protocols, requiring more than 14,000 buildings to be modified to withstand violent shaking.

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“The technology to build houses and buildings has definitely improved in California because we all know to expect an earthquake,” said Emma Li (10). “We have to be ready for a big one.”

As of 2013, San Francisco also requires wooden buildings higher than three stories to be made earthquake-safe with extra precautions. Soft-story buildings, buildings that have storefront openings or garages, and wooden structures with three or more buildings are required to be screened, evaluated, and then upgraded if necessary. The Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety said that this new law will result in much safer and better outcomes in case an earthquake were to hit.

Varsha Rammohan