When Will The Next Earthquake Hit California? At Some Point In Your Lifetime, At Least
San Andreas, the next Hollywood film based on a smidgen of science and a heap of our fear of natural disasters, follows a helicopter pilot, played by Dwayne Johnson, who tries to save his daughter after the San Andreas fault triggers a magnitude 9 earthquake in California. But when will the next California earthquake happen in real life? Scientists have said the next California earthquake of magnitude 8 or larger, also called the "Big One," could happen in the next 30 years, according to the Associated Press.
Recently, a team of 300 scientists, governments, first responders, and industries worked for more than a year to come up with a realistic crisis scenario to prepare for the next Big One. The U.S. Geological Survey and California Geological Survey published their findings in March, according to the AP. The researchers said that their work is not a prediction, but that the threat of a major earthquake happening in California in the next few decades is real.
Specifically, new USGS research found that the chance of the next Big One happening in California in the next 30 years nearly doubled, from 4.7 percent to 7 percent in 2015, according to NBC Los Angeles. These odds might not seem that bad, but you first must consider the kind of destruction we're talking about.
A magnitude 6.7 earthquake happened in Northridge in 1994, resulting in more than 60 deaths, roughly 9,000 injuries, crumbled freeways, widespread gas fires, collapsed apartment buildings, and power loss across the city, according to The Atlantic. Now, scientists have estimated that the next Big One would injure 50,000 and kill 1,800, according to the AP.
But even something smaller than the Big One could cause widespread destruction, and the odds of a smaller-yet-still-deadly quake happening in 30 years are even higher. According to data released by USGS in March, there's at least a 99 percent chance that California could be hit by a magnitude-6.7 earthquake, similar to the Northridge disaster, in the next 30 years. And there's a 93 percent chance of a magnitude-7 or larger earthquake occurring over the same period. Even the chance of an earthquake greater than magnitude-7.5 is still pretty high, at 48 percent. USGS geophysicist Ned Field told NBC Los Angeles that residents are ignoring facts if they think a big earthquake won't happen anytime soon:
California is earthquake country, and residents should live every day like it could be the day of a big one.
The San Andreas fault is one of the greatest threats for California earthquakes because it hasn't ruptured in more than three centuries, according to NBC. That means the energy of the two tectonic plates rubbing past one another and getting stuck at opposing points has had a long time to build up — like a coiled spring.
In a separate interview with USA Today, Field said the most likely place in California to host a large earthquake would be along the southern San Andreas, from the Coachella Valley to the Mojave:
Plate tectonic stresses have really built up beyond where they do on average. And so we think that those areas are particularly high in terms of the likelihood of having a large earthquake.
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