The state of California has a population of thirty-nine and a half million.
From one end of the state to the other, it boasts big cities with bright lights and bustling nightlife, ancient redwood forests, majestic mountains and one of the most abundant agricultural industries, which now includes cannabis. One other thing it is well known for is earthquakes.
Intense Month of Earthquakes
The month of July has been exceptional, to say the least; seeing over 80,000 earthquakes since July fourth alone, according to the LA Times. Early in the month, two of the strongest earthquakes to hit the state of California in decades hit the town of Ridgecrest measuring in at 6.4 and 7.1 on the Richter scale, leaving a thirty-mile long fissure in the Mojave Desert.
Since then, an overwhelming number of earthquakes have been recorded. The Richter scale, or more accurately Richter Magnitude Scale, is a system of classifying earthquakes on a scale of 1 to 10, using seismological equipment.
Any earthquake measuring 6 and above is considered significant and may cause serious damage to buildings, the infrastructure and even cause fatalities.
What is concerning is that the state of California sits atop a major fault line, known as the San Andreas Fault, measuring 1,200 kilometers long, where the Pacific and North American plates come together.
A fault line is a place on the Earth’s surface where tectonic plates meet. Tectonic plates are large pieces of the Earth’s surface that experience movement every so often. Most of it is undetectable without sensitive instruments.
Aftershocks have finally begun to slow down following the large earthquakes. The US Geological Survey, an organization that tracks seismic activity, has reported that a magnitude of 7 or higher earthquake as a result of these events is 1 in 300, “possible but with a low probability”.
Comparatively, there is a 1 in 1,000 chance that a 7.8 or higher earthquake hits the San Andreas Fault any day now.
Zachary Ross, Caltech assistant professor of geophysics, says seismic activity is common in areas of the planet experiencing high heat flow.
Ridgecrest happens to sit near the Coso Volcanic Field which lies between the borders of the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake just 2.5 miles north of Ridgecrest. Also, Coso is one of the largest producers of geothermal power in the United States.
Earthquake intensity (what is felt during an earthquake at any given location) is often mistaken for #earthquake magnitude (the instrumentally measured size of that earthquake). https://t.co/EWFXAqfRmT pic.twitter.com/5ckvuQzgut
— IRIS Earthquake Sci (@IRIS_EPO) July 31, 2019
Although the aftershocks are slowing down, seismologists are concerned. According to experts, the tremors are moving closer to two major faults, Owens valley to the northwest and Garlock to the southeast.
In 1872, the Owens Valley fault caused a 7.9 event, one of the strongest recorded in California’s modern history. The lesser known Garlock fault is said to be capable of causing a magnitude 8.0 or higher event.
It is impossible for seismologists to predict just when and where an earthquake will hit, experts can only urge the public to be prepared with a plan of action in case such an event is to take place.
Every earthquake is not guaranteed to cause seismic activity near major faults, but some can. An earthquake can increase the likelihood of another event happening and experts model the spread much like a disease epidemic.
The most recent and largest aftershock occurred Thursday at 5:42 PM sixteen miles from Ridgecrest, as reported by the US Geological Survey. Sixty-eight earthquakes of a magnitude 3.0 or greater have occurred over the last ten days.