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This Would Be Scary?!? Will A Catastrophic Earthquake Strike The Northwest This Year? The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network Speculates…

January 3, 2013

Cascadia EQ Sources

The title of this short article definitely caught my eye…”Will a megathrust earthquake strike the NW in 2013????” It brought up several things…such a quake would be incredible destructive, no doubt killing thousands and costing billions in damages. Has earthquake predictions improved significantly recently? What the heck is going on up there in the northwest!??!?!?!

Well, it turns out there were 4,800 earthquakes in the Northwest in 2012 and a record “episodic tremor and slip” (ETS) events – a string of deep mini-quakes running from Vancouver Island to below Centralia – over the summer.

The range and path of the record 2012 episodic tremor and slip event. Photo: Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

The range and path of the record 2012 episodic tremor and slip event. Photo: Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

A devastating megathrust earthquake can happen every 300 to 500 years in this region – that is caused by the Juan De Fuca plate’s collision and subduction with the North American plate.  The boundary between the Juan De Fuca plate offshore and the North American plate runs under the Puget Sound area from California up to Canada. This is where a megathrust quake of magnitude 9 or better could occur. Below that danger zone, deeper in the subduction, is where the ETS happens.

Here are the locations of all events larger than magnitude 3 in 2012. The earthquakes are spread across the region, mostly on the western side. The largest event of the year was a magnitude 4 less than a mile inside Washington state near Victoria, B.C., in December.

Here are the locations of all events larger than magnitude 3 in 2012. The earthquakes are spread across the region, mostly on the western side. The largest event of the year was a magnitude 4 less than a mile inside Washington state near Victoria, B.C., in December.

However, the question remains: Are these events (ETS) associated with earthquakes and if so, how? A researcher is building computer models to find answers and so far has some preliminary results that suggest the tremors and slips are in fact connected to quakes. In his simulations, after a big earthquake, the events stop for about 100 years and then start up again. And then one of them eventually will “spontaneously grow into a fast, dynamic rupture” – an earthquake. The problem is he can’t tell which one will mutate into disaster. The hope is to find something that will “tip them off” that something big is about to occur.

The article raised the question does any of this mean we’re likely to see the “big one” in 2013 and then immediately notes that “it is still impossible to predict, however some clues may be emerging.” So in other words…stay tuned – who knows!?!?!

In other words, operation attention, get ready now and be ready.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. John Ames permalink
    January 3, 2013 18:55

    Well known for a long time … “Ain’t gonna happen here” is a live an well in the Pacific Northwest …

    • January 4, 2013 04:13

      Thanks for your post. So true hey!?!?! I live in SF and we have that same problem here! 😉 Your fault systems though can make ours look, well, pale. Stay well. Regina

  2. January 4, 2013 05:34

    Hi Regina, since 1971, when I was in high school in So. California, I had been told that a big 8.5 or better quake will hit the pacific region in a twenty year window, based on my best friend’s dad who worked at Cal Tech in the seismology team. It’s now close to 40 years since that time, and yes many quakes have occurred, even the 1993 Northridge quake which I coordinated the recovery efforts for the company I worked for. I wish we could predict quakes, which someday that time will come. Meanwhile, our best defense is to begin and continue personally and professionally in being prepared to handle these unpredictable events and quell the “ain’t gonna happen here” naysayers. This is greatly true in the Mid West where I live now, that along the San Madrid fault, a major sub terrain quake can really produce some major havoc due to the soil structure. My job is to insure they continue to remain aware of this potential “secret disaster” that cannot be seen like tornados, that a quake here has a high probability of happen – when who knows! Great article by the way!

    • January 4, 2013 08:55

      Hi Rick, Thanks for your post. Couldn’t agree with you more that the best offense is a great level of preparedness! Alas we as a society are not so good at doing that…those of us in our profession need to keep doing the great work we are doing – it helps us all stay a bit safer. Thanks for all that you do! Be well, Regina

  3. Eduardo d'Oliveira Almeida permalink
    January 5, 2013 01:59

    I believe west coast is “used to” this kind of natural phenomena. I should remind that there is a high danger of tsunami in the East Cost caused by the Cumbra Vieja Volcano in La Palma Island. Studies show that NYC will suffer major damages if volvano’s flank collapsed. 20 cubic kilometers of rock will fall 4 miles deep into the water. The wave created will be huge and will travel at a jet airliner speed across Atlantic Ocean and strike mainly US East Coast, Brasil but also Lisbon and London area.

    • January 5, 2013 09:06

      HI Eduardo, Thanks for your post. Well you are right about us west coast folks being more “used to” the more far reaching regional disasters than our eastern brothers and sisters…although I think recent developments in the East like Superstorm Sandy might have changed that a bit. Thanks for the info on Cumbra Vieja Volcano. Had not heard of it before! Be well, Regina

  4. Jason permalink
    January 6, 2013 07:08

    Regina et al,

    In an attempt to provide a local perspective as to “What the heck is going on up [here] in the northwest,” I would simply say, “A lot.” Emergency management professionals at all levels (i.e. Federal, state, local, public- and private-sector) throughout the Pacific Northwest remain very aware of the threats posed by the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) and there is a significant amount of CSZ-related work being done by groups including the Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup and the Puget Sound Regional Catastrophic Planning Team, along with efforts coordinated by the Pacific Northwest Economic Region and a host of others. Many of these are international endeavours that include partners from British Columbia and the Canadian Federal Government and focus quite specifically on either the Cascadia fault or its many fault systems.

    Earthquake prediction is impossible, so all of this is part of our “operation normal.” That said, we (like most) could certainly benefit from greater emphasis and awareness on the earthquake hazard from our elected leaders and the general public, respectively, and do encourage all-hazards preparedness through all types of media. For more information on what is being done in this area, I would encourage anyone to visit some of the aforementioned organizations’ websites or contact local, State, and/or Federal (in our case, FEMA Region 10) emergency management offices. If you need links and/or other suggestions, you are also welcome to contact me.


    • January 6, 2013 07:42

      Thanks for the post Jason! I had done a work in your region and have been impressed with the level of commitment and dedication to CSZ preparation by the agenncies. I have found many of your locals (both citizens and businesses) like mine in the Bay Area…lacking in awareness and preparation. It continues to be a daily challenge and one that I think is fraught with “human nature – It won’t happen here” thinking. We always have lots to do. Keep up the good work! Be well, Regina

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