Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Scientists Ease Fears about California's 'Monster Quake'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Scientists Ease Fears about California's 'Monster Quake'

Article excerpt

Like a skinny grade schooler wondering which of the playground bullies will jump him for his lunch money tomorrow, southern California has always eyed its network of earthquake faults with a mixture of dread and resignation.

For decades, Californians have worried about "the big one," and the hugely destructive, but seismologically moderate (magnitude 6.6) Northridge quake of 1994 only heightened uneasiness over what a more powerful quake might do. Yet even as scientists last week announced the discovery of another active fault under Los Angeles, there is mounting evidence that the situation may not be as dire as many seismologists had previously thought.

Two groups of scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of Southern California and University of California at Los Angeles now say that the deficit - a key indicator of future seismic activity - may be nonexistent or much less than originally theorized. The notion of a deficit was first suggested in two studies published shortly after the Northridge event. It holds that the stress that builds up along fault lines must be periodically released by earthquakes. If the quakes don't relieve all the stress, then it begins to accumulate. For this reason, many scientists believed that Los Angeles and its surrounding counties were facing a significantly increased rate of small to moderate earthquakes or the possibility of a Hollywood-style superquake in excess of magnitude 8.0 when the faults finally gave way. But the new evaluation of the data by the USGS as well as USC and UCLA suggests that the network of fault lines from the Mexican border to just north of Bakersfield may be closer to equilibrium that the earlier interpretations posited. Part of the difficulty with the earlier efforts, says Ross Stein of the USGS, was reliance on newspaper records to determine the level of quake activity during the 1800s. …

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