One thing about earthquakes is the simple fact that nobody is able to predict the when. We just know it'll come in the future - like other natural disasters.
April 7, 2009
Sensors help detect first signs of trouble on San Andreas fault
The Desert Sun
High above the Coachella Valley in a remote, rocky area, new seismic equipment has been installed that could eventually warn of major earthquakes.
The spot is among 17 new areas that will host advanced sensors along the southern San Andreas fault " from the Salton Sea to the Cajon Pass.
“If you ask, ‘Where's the next big one likely to occur,' that's No. 1 on the list,” said U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Doug Given, project chief for earthquake monitoring. The USGS is teaming with the Pasadena-based California Institute of Technology to install the sensors.
The southern San Andreas fault is about 300 years overdue for a powerful earthquake, and scientists are focusing much attention on the shifting occurring near the Coachella Valley.
The sensors “are specifically designed to capture the first break of the southern San Andreas fault. The first break is critical when you're formatting an early-warning system,” said Scott Lydeen of Indio, a member of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Team.
Eventually, scientists say they hope the sophisticated technology can relay information quickly through the earthquake-monitoring network, providing warning " if only just seconds " of a major earthquake rumbling toward a city.
That would provide enough time to shut down elevators, close dams and alert emergency teams, said Charles Koesterer, a USGS field technician.
It's not perfect, but it's a start.
“This isn't a prediction,” said USGS seismologist Lucy Jones, one of the foremost earthquake experts in the nation. “The earthquake would already be under way. It only does you good if you're not where the earthquake begins.”
But “we're quite a ways” from it being useful, she said. “It's research to develop the technique.”
The equipment installed Wednesday in the mountains above Sky Valley, near Desert Hot Springs, contains sensors that measure the velocity and speed the ground is moving and can detect very small and very large earth movement, Lydeen said.
“We're (monitoring) the pulse, the heartbeat of the earth,” Lydeen said. “We can see everything going on in the earth's crust.”
Lessons from Japan
The new seismic stations will supplement the other 300-plus sensors USGS and Cal Tech monitor throughout Southern California, Lydeen said.
New equipment also has been installed in the Mission Creek area, Indio Hills, Mecca Hills and an area south of North Shore, Lydeen said.
Scientists know early-warning systems are doable because Japan uses them, she said.
Japan spent $600 million to set up an early-warning system for one particular area, and spends $50 million a year to run that, she said.
The Japanese earthquake-monitoring program costs about a $1 billion a year, Jones said, “and that country isn't much bigger than the state of California.”
“We have 1,000 stations in the state of California. They probably have 10,000,” Jones said.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake " a 6.7-magnitude shaker that killed 92 people, injured more than 9,000 and caused about $20 billion in damage " spurred the development of more advanced earthquake-monitoring devices, said USGS field technician Bill Curtis.
The new sensor stations were made possible through $650,000 in funding from the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project.
The project focuses on Southern California hazards, including coastal erosion, earthquakes, floods, landslides, tsunamis, and wildfires, Given said.
The national economic stimulus package also will bring $140 million to the USGS, some of which will be used to improve earthquake monitoring, Jones said.
“We are planning to add more,” she said, “and the southern Andreas will continue to be a focus.”
In November, agencies from throughout Southern California staged a “Big One” exercise to help prepare people for a major earthquake that would cause 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries and $200 billion in damage.
The scenario called for a quake that starts on San Andreas fault near the Salton Sea and rumbles its way through the Coachella Valley and onto the Los Angeles area.
If such a quake hit, scientists say, sections of freeways would collapse, water and gas pipes would burst, and certain high-rise buildings and older structures would fall.
The earliest-reported earthquake in California was felt by the exploring expedition of Gaspar de Portola while the group camped about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles in 1769.
Each year, the Southern California area has about 10,000 earthquakes. Most are so small no one feels them. Only several hundred are greater than magnitude-3.0, and only about 15-20 are greater than magnitude-4.0. Large earthquakes, however, will produce many more aftershocks of all magnitudes for many months.
The average rate of motion across the San Andreas Fault Zone during the past 3 million years is 2 inches a year, about the same rate at which your fingernails grow. Assuming this rate continues, scientists project that Los Angeles will be a suburb of San Francisco in about 15 million years.
The largest recorded earthquake in the United States was a magnitude-9.2 that struck Prince William Sound, Alaska, on Good Friday, March 28, 1964.
The largest recorded earthquake in the world was a magnitude 9.5 in Chile on May 22, 1960.
Opinion: Earthquake Predictions: To Heed or Ignore?
Before the critics got their briefs up in too much of a bunch, a little critical thinking should have been done.
So Giampaolo Giuliani has been correct in his earthquake predictions a few times, but he’s also been wrong.
Even Dr. Lucy Jones, who has earned a worldwide reputation as a seismologist, working for the U.S.G.S. out of Cal-Tech in Pasadena, California, said the release of radon is no accurate predictor of earthquakes.
Sometimes earthquakes occur after a radon release; sometimes they don’t. In fact, for all the studies, she said seismologists absolutely cannot predict quakes; all they can say is ‘maybe,’ I.e. the recent cluster of quakes we’ve had in the past few weeks in the Salton Sea area at the southern end of the San Andreas fault.
Those quakes have set off alarms of the pending 'big one,' but they can just as easily be taking pressure off the San Andreas as putting it on. No one knows.
In Southern California, we take her word for what she and her fellow seismologist, Dr. Kate Hutton of Cal-Tech say. We’ve been watch them for years and taking their “always be prepared” advice.
Well, some of have anyway.
Those of us who were around for early wake up call of the 6.6, 1971 Sylmar quake that destroyed the V.A. hospital in Sylmar, two freeway interchanges and just about collapsed the Lower Van Norman Dam, remember well seeing Jones on television, holding her infant son in her arms, calming our nerves and telling us exactly what happened and preparing us for aftershocks.
Because of lack of sufficient communication between agencies, they couldn’t even decide whether to evacuate the 40,000 residents who lived below the dam. Evacuation orders were sent out, reversed and put into effect again. The dam was drained to avert a disaster and then its use was discontinued.
The “experts” can’t even agree on whether the Italian quake was a 6.3 or a 5.8; I’ve heard both. They also couldn’t agree if our most recent “big one,” the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge quake was a 6.7 or more than a seven. Rumors flew that it was at least a seven or greater, but the government wanted it to be less, so it wouldn’t have to shell out so much relief money.
Let’s put it this way. If you were here, just five miles from the epicenter, you, too, would swear is was at least a seven. I always figured the ’conspiracy’ thing was nonsense, because it would have been impossible to have a vast conspiracy involving hundreds of seismologist around the world to make it less than it really was.
To evacuate because of the threat of an earthquake is tenuous at best when only a general area is suspected of being affected and there is no time or date-certain of the anticipated event.
And if they could evacuate a huge population, when would they know when it's safe to send everyone home?
Even the tiny hamlet of Parkfield, California, population 18 or 900 depending on whom you ask, has the reputation of being a harbinger of San Andreas activity, with earthquakes at a predictable regularity…until it stopped, and can no longer be relied upon. They’re still waiting their long overdue quake.
Eighteen or 900, Parkfield could be evacuated, but what about the 30- to 40-million population of the great greater Los Angeles area, which extends from Santa Barbara to San Diego, half of whom are illegals and not even next year‘s census, let alone the I.N.S. will catch, leaving everyone in the dark as to how many people actually live here.
Even if it were an absolute, positive, no question about it fact that the San Andreas will fracture on a date and time certain, as it’s been threatening to do for years, what’s a government to do?
Be prepared! That’s what to do.
Take note all you millions of people who live in the New Madrid fault zone.
And if you get the crazy idea to issue a warning of the coming -- it’s a sure thing -- event, you better damn well have the National Guard on hand with loaded guns in tow, if they’re not still wasting their lives and time in Iraq, while you’re giving out the warning, because what will inevitably follow a dire warning is panic and looting in advance of, or concurrent with a mass fleeing of the city by a panicked populace.
Nothing frightens like an earthquake. There’s nothing to shake one’s feeling of security than to have stable, sure-footed ground move under one’s feet.
Prediction miscues are everywhere.
For all their technology, even the U.S. Weather Service does a lousy job of predicting where a hurricane will strike, and they have satellites and sophisticated computers to come up with different scenarios of where and when.
With all of that, half the time they’re wrong, and a hurricane takes a last minute turn and hits an un-evacuated area. We’ve lost track of how many times residents of various Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama cities have evacuated, all for naught.
Likewise, in Los Angeles, the local news has been telling us for days that a ‘major rain storm’ is coming, so we put away all the garden tools, clear leaves and such from the drain covers, walk around and turn off all the auto sprinklers, replace rotted out windshield wipers and generally clean up to have less of a mess to clean up after the rain that never shows up.
What's happening right now is a good example. Early last night the sky spit a few drops of water, and that was the “big” storm. They predict and nothing happens. The opposite occurs, too. They predict a few showers and we’re pounded by mud slide-causing torrential rain.
It’s gotten to the point of “when I see it, I’ll believe it,” so why should I or anyone listen to predictions of an earthquake or anything else?
At this very moment, the sky should be shrouded in dark clouds and vast amounts of water pouring from it. In stead, the sun is shining so brightly through my office window, I just had to draw the drapes to block it out, and the Weather Channel isn’t showing one green blip anywhere in the area.
As for earthquakes, my house was built before all the earthquake building regulations were put into place after the Sylmar quake, yet it was built to meet what few earthquake specifications were in place at the time, and the wood framing is bolted to the concrete foundation.
So far it’s survived two major quakes with suffering no more than minor cracks. I don’t know if it’ll survive a third; only time will tell.
But if someone knew ’fer sur’ that the San Andreas were to rupture and warnings of the impending “big one” were put out, I would not leave.
And living in Southern California, where would one run to by car that would be far enough away to be safe?
Not Las Vegas; they’ll feel the effects, too. Not San Francisco. San Diego couldn’t hold everyone and it’s at the southern end of the San Andreas. Oregon and Washington aren’t safe either, if absolute safety is what you’re looking for.
No, it would be safer to stay here than to battle the maddening crowds trying to escape the city, quaking in my boots and waiting, but I would have fortified the earthquake supplies I’ve had on hand for years and wait…wait…wait.
The truth is, it's never safe to live in an active earthquake zone. Every minute there is a fifty-fifty chance that an earthquake will occur...or it won't.
As for predictions, does anyone really believe that the world as we know it will end on Dec. 21, 2012?
Prepare a Home Earthquake Plan
» Choose a safe place in every room " under a sturdy table or desk or against an inside wall where nothing can fall on you.
» Practice DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON at least twice a year. Drop under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm. If there’s no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases, or tall furniture that could fall on you. Teach children to DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON!
» Choose an out-of-town family contact.
» Consult a professional to find out additional ways you can protect your home, such as bolting the house to its foundation and other structural mitigation techniques.
» Take a first-aid class from American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter. Keep your training current.
» Get training in how to use a fire extinguisher.
» Inform babysitters and caregivers of your plan.
» Bolt bookcases, china cabinets and other tall furniture to wall studs.
» Install strong latches on cupboards.
» Strap the water heater to wall studs.
Prepare a Disaster Supplies Kit For Home and Car
» First-aid kit and essential medications.
» Canned food and can opener.
» At least three gallons of water per person.
» Protective clothing, rainwear, and bedding or sleeping bags.
» Battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries.
» Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.
» Written instructions for how to turn off gas, electricity and water if authorities advise you to do so. (Remember, you’ll need a professional to turn natural gas service back on.)
» Keeping essentials, such as a flashlight and sturdy shoes, by your bedside.
Know What to Do When the Shaking Begins
» DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON! Move only a few steps to a nearby safe place. Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you’re sure it’s safe to exit. Stay away from windows. In a high-rise building, expect the fire alarms and sprinklers to go off during a quake.
» If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow.
» If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees and power lines. Drop to the ground.
» If you are in a car, slow down and drive to a clear place (as described above). Stay in the car until the shaking stops.
Identify What to Do After the Shaking Stops
» Check yourself for injuries. Protect yourself from further danger by putting on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves.
» Check others for injuries. Give first aid for serious injuries.
» Look for and extinguish small fires. Eliminate fire hazards. Turn off the gas if you smell gas or think it’s leaking. (Remember, only a professional should turn it back on.)
» Listen to the radio for instructions.
» Expect aftershocks. Each time you feel one, DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON!
» Inspect your home for damage. Get everyone out if your home is unsafe.
» Use the telephone only to report life-threatening emergencies.
California's Central Coast Earthquake Hazards: New Information About Recently Identified Faults
(Apr. 15, 2009) " Seismologists are re-evaluating the earthquake potential of the Central Coast, a very complex tectonic region located west of the San Andreas Fault, between Monterey Bay and the Western Transverse Ranges. This area of increasing population growth ranks as one of the top 40 U.S. metropolitan areas with significant earthquake risk.
Speakers from the US Geological Survey, PG&E and academia have compared fresh data to illuminate the complexity of faulting in the central California coastal region.
Three talks will use separate datasets to focus on the California Central Ranges, Hosgri Fault Zone and nearby faults:
Fault structure of the California Central Coast: Jeanne Hardebeck, US Geological Survey, will present and interpret new earthquake relocations and focal mechanisms for earthquakes occurring along the central California coast, including the offshore region near San Luis Obispo. A prominent newly-observed feature is a 25 km long linear trend of seismicity running just offshore and parallel to the coast-line in the region of Point Buchon. This seismicity trend is accompanied by a linear magnetic anomaly, and both the seismicity and the magnetic anomaly are truncated where they obliquely meet the Hosgri Fault. Focal mechanisms indicate that this feature is a vertical strike-slip fault.
Geophysical characterization of the Hosgri Fault zone: High-resolution marine magnetic and seismic-reflection data collected offshore Point Buchon show that the Hosgri Fault represents a complex zone of steeply dipping faults that varies significantly in character along strike.
The boundary of a northwest-trending linear magnetic anomaly off Point Buchon corresponds to a linear trend of small earthquakes, suggesting an active fault. Continued interpretation and geophysical modeling of magnetic, seismic reflection, and seismicity data will help determine whether or not the magnetic boundaries are fault boundaries, and if so, how these structures relate to the Hosgri Fault Zone.
Constraints on 3-dimensional structure from gravity and magnetic data: V. E. Langenheim, US Geological Survey, will present analysis based on a new physical dataset that is sensitive to magnetic properties of rock, mapping fault boundaries. Her research suggests complex, non-linear features with intersecting faults. Fault and basin geometry will be important for estimating shaking potential of scenario earthquakes.
The presentation "California's Central Coast Earthquake Hazards: New information about recently identified faults," is presented in the session entitled California's Central Coast Hazards on April 9, 2009.
Hawaii Island hit by 5.1 magnitude earthquake
By Wallace Witkowski
Last update: 7:03 p.m. EDT April 14, 2009Comments: 10
SAN FRANCSICO (MarketWatch) -- A 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook Hawaii Island around 3:44 p.m. Pacific time, or 12:44 p.m. local time, on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicenter was located 8 miles south of Volcano, Hawaii.
Los Angeles had a 5.0 quake about an hour ago. We felt it all the way down
to San Diego, especially on the coast here. Epicenter was close to LAX
A few aftershocks since
Los Angeles had a 5.0 quake about an hour ago. We felt it all the way down
to San Diego, especially on the coast here. Epicenter was close to LAX
A few aftershocks since
You guys had a 4 pointer there on the Hayward fault last week, centered 2 miles from Berkeley.