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Ten Intriguing Earthquake Facts

Ten Intriguing Earthquake Facts

Seismic disturbances have increased around the world in recent years.  We hear about the casualties and devastation on a regular basis.  If you live along the West Coast, you have probably heard that an extremely powerful temblor could occur anytime within the next twenty to thirty years.  While we would all like to believe that the next big quake won’t happen nearby, the fact is no one can accurately predict exactly when or where the next massively destructive quake will happen.  Along major fault lines located in California and even in areas that frequently experience tremors, seismic activity is often surprising and unsettling for area residents and commercial property owners.

For those who don’t know much about earthquakes, here are some interesting earthquake facts:

  1. For the most part, it’s not the forceful rocking and rolling of the ground itself that kills people during an earthquake; it’s the associated destruction of man-made buildings and other structures, along with other natural disasters that may occur, such as tsunamis, floods, mudslides and avalanches, that are a result of the Earth’s movement.  Smaller temblors that usually occur in the days following a large earthquake can complicate rescue efforts and cause further death and destruction.
  2. The entire Earth’s surface consists of twenty tectonic plates (giant slabs of rock that make up the upper layer of planet Earth) that shift and move, sliding and colliding, regularly.  As the plates gradually shift, incredible stress builds up between the plates; such movement causes its strength to increase and the crust to eventually break apart. When the stress is released quickly as energy, it sends massive vibrations, called seismic waves, hundreds of miles through the earth and up to the surface.  These seismic waves are called earthquakes.
  3. Earthquakes occur only in the Earth’s crust. Deep earthquakes begin in crust that is sliding down underneath another tectonic plate.  The worst, most destructive, earthquakes occur in highly populated areas and are shallow, but powerful, with a focus point that is less than 20 miles below.
  4. Almost 80% of all the Earth’s seismic activity happens along the rim of the Pacific Ocean, also known as the “Ring of Fire”.  This is home to 452 volcanoes (more than 75 percent of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes).  The second-most earthquake-prone area is a region called the Alpide Belt, which includes countries such as India, Pakistan and Turkey.
  5. According to information from the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC), approximately 20,000 earthquakes (about 50 a day) are recorded around the world each year.  In fact, there are millions of earthquakes estimated to occur every year that are so weak they cannot even be recorded by very sensitive seismograph equipment.
  6. The largest recorded earthquake in the United States was a magnitude 9.2 that struck Prince William Sound, Alaska on March 28, 1964.  Alaska is one of the most seismically active regions in the world, experiencing a magnitude 7.0 earthquake almost every year.  A magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquake occurs approximately once every 14 years.
  7. The San Andreas is perhaps the longest fault zone in the world.  It covers over 800 miles from San Francisco through southern California to Mexico, and it is not just one fault, but actually a region of many faults.  The San Andreas Fault is moving about 2 inches a year, about the same rate fingernails grow.  At that rate of movement, Los Angeles and San Francisco will be right next door to each other in approximately 15 million years.
  8. An undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a chain of devastating tsunamis on Dec. 26, 2004.  These tsunamis struck along the coasts of most neighboring landmasses that border the Indian Ocean.  More than 225,000 people in 11 countries were killed and coastal communities were completely submerged under waves up to 100 feet high. This incredible quake lasted nearly 10 minutes (the longest on record) and generated enough energy to power all the homes and businesses in the United States for three days.
  9. Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, and the 9.0 earthquake that struck Japan March 11, 2011 was the worst earthquake in Japan’s history.  This earthquake not only moved the island closer to the United States, it also shifted the planet’s axis by 6.5 inches. In addition, it shifted the earth’s mass toward the center, causing the planet to spin faster and shortening the day by 1.6 microseconds.
  10. Parkfield, California, is known as “The Earthquake Capital of the World” and has a bridge that spans two tectonic plates (the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate).  Interestingly, this bridge was built across a creek with piers on either side that have shifted more than five feet relative to one another due to what has been referred to as “seismic creep” since the bridge was constructed in 1936.  One of the main reasons why this tiny California town is recognized as the Earthquake Capital is that since at least 1857, it has experienced a quake of 6 or greater magnitude on an average of every 22 years.

While these are all interesting facts, and we would all like to think that the next major earthquake will not impact us, the bottom line is that there is no way currently to predict where and when a devastating earthquake will strike.  There is also no way that anyone can predict exactly how much and where devastation may occur.  Scientists and researchers around the globe continue to measure and study the strain in rocks, heat flow, microseismicity, and geomagnetism in places like Parkfield, California, and around the globe in an attempt to better understand the physics of earthquakes and faulting.  Information gathered may one day be used to issue predictions for major earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault and around the world, but that is not the case for today.

Structural engineers, with specific training in seismic retrofitting, and experienced seismic retrofitting contractors, however, can inspect properties to determine if maintenance is needed to strengthen buildings to withstand the powerful forces of underground seismic activity.  If you are a commercial property owner in the San Bernadino area, and your building has not gone through a seismic retrofit, now is the time to seriously consider any retrofitting maintenance necessary to ensure it can remain standing during any future mega-quakes.

Remove any hazards and have your building retrofitted (properly anchored and reinforced) soon!  It is much more affordable and safe to retrofit a building before an earthquake hits, rather than waiting to repair expensive damages and pay for extensive liability issues after an earthquake occurs.   To get more information on how to determine if your property needs to be retrofitted or to schedule an seismic retrofit inspection, call Saunders Seismic Commercial Retrofit today!

Southern California Office

(949) 646-0034

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