San Andreas Fault: Could Drought Make It Worse?


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The drought in California is causing a lot of problems for residents, most of these problems are obvious, but one is harder to see. The drought has caused Californians to take water from underneath the Central Valley. This has caused the area to rise up at least six inches since it was first pumped for water in 1860.

The rising land and depleted water is also causing some not so pleasant effects. More and more earthquakes have been occurring in California and a recent study shows that the pumping could be causing more stress on the San Andreas Fault and lead to more earthquakes in the future.

"The magnitude of these stress changes is exceedingly small compared to the stresses relieved during a large earthquake," lead researcher Colin Amos, a geologist at Western Washington University, said.

Most Californians are used to dealing with small earthquakes, but scientists have warned for years that a giant earthquake capable of killing 1,800 people and causing $200 billion in damage could also occur along the fault line sometime in the near future.

This has caused many people to wonder what they can do to prevent such quakes from occurring and further stressing the fault. According to Amos, the damage is already done and cannot be reversed.

"These earthquakes are likely to occur no matter what humans do," Amos said.

The study has also offered a unique view into earthquake hazard causes.

"This study shows that human-induced changes are significant and must be considered in earthquake hazard analyses," said Paul Lundgren, a geophysicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

"The key aspect to keep in mind is that while they can estimate that the unclamping of the San Andreas Fault will promote future seismicity there, they do not know what is the current absolute state of stress on the fault nor how much additional stress accumulation is required to generate the next large earthquake," Lundgren said.

Do you think the pumping will lead to more or bigger earthquakes and what else can be done about the California drought?

Image via Wikimedia Commons