Los Angeles Doomed: Not Because Climate Change

Guest geologizing by David Middleton

Earthquake fault long thought dormant could devastate Los Angeles, researchers say

By DEBORAH NETBURNSTAFF WRITER
AUG. 31, 2019 9:42 AM

Scientists citing new research say an earthquake fault along the Los Angeles coast, previously believed to be dormant, is active and could cause a destructive 6.4 magnitude earthquake if it ruptured.

And if it linked with other faults, it could trigger an earthquake in the magnitude 7 range, according to a team of researchers from Harvard, USC and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The fault, known as the Wilmington Blind-Thrust fault, stretches for about 12.5 miles, running northwest from Huntington Beach, directly beneath the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, past the east side of the Palos Verdes Pensinula and out toward Santa Monica Bay.

Researchers have known for decades that the fault existed, but it was long thought to be dormant and therefore of no concern for the residents of Los Angeles.

[…]

Research published in 2017 found the fault may be even more dangerous than experts had believed, capable of producing more frequent destructive temblors than previously suggested by scientists.

LA Times

Amazingly, the LA Times article didn’t mention climate change… I thought everything in California was either caused or worsened by climate change… hmmm?

The new paper is pay-walled. The 2017 paper by the same group of authors was funded by the USGS and available. Their interpretation is that the Wilmington Blind‐Thrust Fault was reactivated within the past 571,000 years and is capable of triggering a 6.2 to 6.3 magnitude earthquake, with a recurrence frequency of 885 to 2,520 years.

Figure 1 from Wolfe et al., 2017.
Figure 2b from Wolfe et al., 2017. Cross-section of Wilmington Blind‐Thrust Fault, showing recent reactivation.

It appears to be linked to other faults, which means we have less than 885 to 2,520 years to solve the earthquake crisis… Can we get a Green New Deal for this?

If I have to tell you when I’m being sarcastic, there was no point in being sarcastic.

“We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction, but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground.”

Andrew Yang, passenger #23 in the 2020 Democrat candidate clown car

So… Andy… Where would you move “our people” to avoid this? Guam?

References

Wolfe, F. D., Dolan, J. F., Plesch, A., & Shaw, J. H. (2017, 08). “Activity and earthquake potential of the Wilmington blind thrust, Los Angeles, CA: The largest earthquake source not on current southern California hazard maps?”. Poster Presentation at 2017 SCEC Annual Meeting.

Wolfe, Franklin D., John H. Shaw, Andreas Plesch, Daniel J. Ponti, James F. Dolan, Mark R. Legg; “The Wilmington Blind‐Thrust Fault: An Active Concealed Earthquake Source beneath Los Angeles, California”. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (2019) doi: https://doi.org/10.1785/0120180335

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87 thoughts on “Los Angeles Doomed: Not Because Climate Change

    • Mag 6.5 to possibly Mag 7? That’s one big quake, there. Big enough to trigger a tidal wave, maybe not the size of the tidal wave that hit Japan, but still….

      Would the coastline drop, as happened with the Tohoku quake? No offense meant, but that was partly what caused so much devastation – the seawalls should have been adequate, but the coastline dropped more than anticipated and the sea went right over seawalls. I watched that. It was heartbreaking from the start of it.

      • Sara

        Mag 6.5 to possibly Mag 7? That’s one big quake, there. Big enough to trigger a tidal wave, maybe not the size of the tidal wave that hit Japan, but still….

        Would the coastline drop, as happened with the Tohoku quake?

        Sideways-moving earthquakes – the most typical of all California fault line movements – do not generally produce the tremendous underwater land movements that create tsunamis. Large underwater movement happens with thrust faults where one crustal section is going under another.

        But! The Juan de Fuca plate offshore of Oregon and Washington a few miles DOES produce 8.3+ magnitude earthquakes regularly. Very regularly at 300 year intervals.

        And we are overdue for the next magnitude 8 earthquake offshore up there – the last is very reliably dates to January 1700. 320 years ago.

        • The latest information indicates the Mag 8 earthquakes @300 year interval occur from Newport OR southward to Fortuna CA. The Mag 9 full subduction zone earthquakes occur on a more extended interval, about every 1500 years. The last one was 9pm January 29th 1700, so we have a ways to go yet. A briefing for emergency responders for Oregon & Washington held last year indicate that, because of the location of the fault (several hundred miles out to sea), damage from a 9+ earthquake (with the exception of the tsunami damage) would be no worse that the Puget Sound area has already experienced several times. Not saying the damage would be minor, but that, like in Japan, THE problem is the tsunami. (THE problem for Oregon is all of the fuel storage for the state is on fill land next to the Willamette river-the Willamette river and the Columbia downstream from Portland will be a river of fire for at least a week.)

        • “Very regularly at 300 year intervals.”

          300 is (approx.) the average, but there is a large variance. 7 is not a large N.
          The last known megathrust earthquake in the northwest was in January, 1700, just over 300 years ago. Geological evidence indicates that such great earthquakes have occurred at least seven times in the last 3,500 years, a return interval of 400 to 600 years. “

          • I recall a talk back in the mid-1970s by Dr Carl Kisslinger, Professor of Geology at University of Colorado, whose special area of research was earthquake magnitude/recurrence relationships.

            He and others had just returned from a long discussion with Chinese seismologists (occasioned by Nixon’s opening relations with the ChiCom government) where there was great interest in identifying predictors of large earthquakes.

            The Chinese proudly showed their successful predictions based on statistical analysis of historical records dating back more than 2000 years, some involving anomalous animal behavior, sudden changes in water well levels, gas discharges from soil, and similar empirical observations

            The Chinese also showed maps of the locations of earthquake activity through time. Kisslinger was deeply impressed by the fact that seismically active areas had also been seismically inert for periods of hundreds of years, and that seismically stable areas had quite suddenly become very active for periods lasting hundreds of years.

            So “Earthquake fault long thought to be inactive” is quite likely a meaningless statement. Think of New Madrid, MO (1811), Cape Ann, MA (1755), or Charleston, SC (1886) – out of the blue!

  1. Related only to the film clip — I’ve never seen the movie, but is there some actual logical reason they don’t just fly — you know … UP?

    • One of the best bad science fiction movies ever! Right up (or down) there with Geostorm and The Day After Tomorrow.

    • You shouldn’t look for much logic in 2012, but in that scene specifically I always assumed that the vast chasms opening below them were sucking air into Earth’s innards, making it difficult for the plane to take off.

      • And more generally why people in “Don’t!” movies, invariably “Do”, no matter how loud everyone is yelling at the screen not to.

    • Literally the only thing I was thinking watching that. Not having watched the thing, I can only conclude that the pilot is just an a-hole and likes to scare the poop out of his passengers. And it’s the only time he’ll ever be able to buzz DTLA and not have the FAA on his 6 for the rest of his life.

  2. Oh yeah, David? Well, global warming causes the Earth’s crust to heat up and therefore expand, thus causing those previously dormant faults to waken. I tell ya, we’re doomed!

    Do I really need a SARC tag? In case I do …

    /SARC

    • Sadly, there is no absurdity that stands out AS an absurdity, when you’re talking greenie alarmism.

      I hear Bernie Sanders is calling for wide-spread abortions – to fight climate change. NOT sarcasm.

    • I’ve already seen alarmists claiming that global warming will cause massive quakes and volcanic eruptions because the melting of the ice caps will decompress Earth’s core.

      • Not the Earth’s core, but it is actually true that melting ice caps do cause local quakes and eruptions from formerly subglacial volcanoes because of the lowered pressure. This has been well studied in Iceland. Not surprising really.

        On the other hand there are some volcanoes in Iceland that seem to erupt only during glaciations, so the effects are not completely straightforward.

  3. Guam?

    I heard Congressman Johnson was afraid that too many people on Guam would make it capsize.

    While the U.S. Navy does not anticipate that, what if?

    • I am sure if you asked Congressman Johnson the same thing could happen here as all those people move East to get away from the Earthquake the USA could flip over.

  4. Regarding the idea that ‘we’ can ‘move the climate in the right direction…’ This would look quite appropriate in a dictionary as an example of hubris…or insanity

  5. which means we have less than 885 to 2,520 years to solve the earthquake crisis….. How do they guess the amount of years?

  6. Wait! If everybody goes to Guam it will tip over as everyone knows. Maybe we could send a few thousand people to Saipan instead. The few surviving holdouts of the Imperial Japanese Army can show them how to survive long-term in the jungle.

  7. Must be those evil oil wells. OMG maybe they’re even fracking!!
    Or maybe Max Zorin is pumping lubricant down the wells to cause it to slip!!

  8. No, no! Global Warming IS going to cause the next big one. Extinction Rebellion will hold a mass rally in downtown LA and collectively Stomp there feet in anger at (dum-da-dum-dum-da) President Trump and the hated “Climate Deniers”, starting a seismic chain reaction setting off ALL the fault lines in the area.
    /snark

  9. Man, I love that two significant digits of precision over a half-million years. Geology has gotten way better since I got my degree.

  10. Let’s start by relocating our nuclear plants that are in danger to somewhere geologically stable. While we are at it let’s just ditch all that old gen-1/2 stuff and build something with a better design.

  11. Hey, I bet I can link the two… (The earthquake and climate change):

    1) The climate is over-heating at an extraordinary rate caused by man-emitted CO2 from burning of fossil fuels (natural CO2 has been shown to not have the magical powers that man-emitted CO2 does…I am extremely sure of a possible-maybe that this might be true)

    2) The heat is boiling the oceans at 70 to 80 degrees F, which then expands rapidly causing 300-foot tidal waves to slam into shore, shaking the land violently

    3) Meanwhile, all that upper super heated water (at around 70 to 80 degrees F) soaks down to lubricate the faults which hereto were bone dry because Californians had sucked the land dry planting orchards.

    4) The violently shaking earth then violently heaves as fault-lines rupture… 50,000 foot mountains suddenly appear. But these turn out to be new-thinner mountains not as good as the older thicker mountains.

    5) Survivors rejoice at the prospect of new ski-resorts. But they blame Trump anyway.

    Now I just need to add fake references and submit this to a climate-change journal.

    • You left out fracking. The fracking in North Dakota will cause small earth quakes that will trigger something in Yellowstone which, in turn, will cause Los Angeles to pitch into the ocean, possibly with the rest of California.

  12. But seriously, reactivated within the past 571,000 years… Are they sure? Maybe it was within the past 570,243 years… I seen some wild ass guesses in my time but if you expect me to believe other things you say, you better be one heck of a lot more accurate then that. And with a recurrence frequency of 885 to 2,520 years (and why would we believe that if they can’t be more precise on the reactivation point?) isn’t it more important when the last occurrence was? …or is that in the report?

    • The reactivation timing is based on the growth history of the rock formations. This is based on well logs and seismic surveys. It’s “rock solid.” The exact dating of the rock formations has a significant error bar. Estimations of major earthquake frequency on faults that haven’t triggered earthquakes in recorded history involve a lot of math based on a lot of assumptions (guessing and liquor).

  13. The cause-effect link to encourage the Alarmists to ever newer heights of “Full Moron.”

    – Human CO2 is causing climate change.
    – Climate Change is warming the atmosphere.
    – The atmosphere expands, and like a ballerina putting her arms out, the Earth’s rotation slows by a few microseconds/day, a LOD decrease.
    – The Earth slowing to conserve angular momentum changes forces on the tectonic plates.
    – Tectonic plate boundaries react to the changing stress, readjust themselves, triggering more extreme earthquakes.
    – Los Angeles slides into the Pacific… Hallelujah. Who said Climate Change was all bad?

  14. what will happen is that the fault will cause an earthquake, and the rest of the country will fall into the ocean…

    now, if we could just get rid of all the touristas that moved here to Lost Angels, only to vote to make it just like home, then maybe #Failifornia could once again be a great place to live, instead of a Turd World hellhole.

    yes, i’m a native, why do you ask? 😉

  15. Good posting, David. Remember that not all earthquakes are created equal, mostly due to the orientation of the fault undergoing movement. The P-wave, a compressional wave, moves out at very high speed perpendicular to the moving fault plane, then the rhythmic S-waves travel in all directions from the movement location along the fault. With thrust faults, or detachment faults, or other sub-horizontal faults, their movement is accompanied by a vertically directed P-wave, which is explosive and very destructive. For any given earthquake magnitude, you get much more destruction with a penetrating P-wave to break things, then a follow-on S-wave to shake things apart. The movement of the Wilmington Blind-Thrust fault would send a P-wave directly into coastal LA. Final comment: all faults can be reactivated, there is not really a healing mechanism sufficient to render one more resistant than the country rock.

    • “all faults can be reactivated”

      Very true. In Scandinavia which is mostly a Precambrian shield there are fault lines 2,000,000,000 years old that have been repeatedly reactivated hundreds of million years apart as the large-scale tectonics of the North Atlantic has changed..

  16. “Final comment: all faults can be reactivated, there is not really a healing mechanism sufficient to render one more resistant than the country rock.”

    But when the upwelling magma liquefies the rock either side of the fault, the tensile stresses must vanish. QED, this is a good healing mechanism.

    I seem to remember a book called “Volcano” about some mad terrorist drilling deep holes and filling them with water to lubricate the faults. This upset the stability of the rock and let loose the magma which then filled the LA subway tunnels, and at one stage a subway train was being chased by lava which was melting the train and endangering the driver! I think he had put the train into reverse and was backing up as fast as possible! One would, I suppose.

    It turned out – and I think it does not matter if I give the ending away – what he wanted was the population of LA to be evacuated, so that he could rob all the banks and make off with all the cash plus all the jewellery stowed in the bank vaults.

    But was that film really called “The Sinking of Los Angeles”? No wonder it never made it to Australia. Sunk without trace.

  17. I am calling from the Shakey Iles ( New Zealand )
    Willem de Lange told us that we should be aware that earth quakes are a far bigger risk here in NZ than climate change and see level rise .
    Wellington sits across a major fault line and when it releases watch this space.
    It might be good for the rest of the country if Parliament is sitting when it happens .
    Graham

  18. Well, here in sunny England they had to shut down the fracking because of the sheer (get it?) terror induced by a 2.2 earthquake. Roughly the equivalent of a ten ton truck driving down the road outside your house.

    My son in Nagano, Japan experiences bigger quakes on a daily basis.

    The Stupid, it burns.

  19. We obviously need to spend the trillions earmarked for the non-existent climate crisis on building a giant surfboard under California so that when the big earthquake actually arrives, as one day it will, the people and buildings will just safely float off unharmed into the Pacific. This is clearly a much better use of money than the Green Woad Deal and at least presents a resolvable technical challenge.
    It will also provide employment for geologists and engineers – climate hysterics not so much.

  20. “The Seven Towers of Agamemnon treble!
    Much is the discord in the latitude of Gemini.
    When, when cry the Sirens of Doom and Love?”

    Hey, am I the only one who hates it when the pilot of the plane you are on decides to fly UNDER the toppling skyscrapers?
    And who the hell calls them “temblors” anyway?
    I have never heard a single person say “It’s a temblor…get under the table!”

  21. even if they get a really big quake, LA isn’t going to sink into the ocean. The west side of the San Andrea’s fault is moving north by north west at a very slow rate. In a couple of million years, LA will be a suburb of Anchorage, AK.

    • This isn’t the San Andreas. It’s a thrust fault. This one might eventually dump LA into the Pacific in a few million years… 😉

  22. L. A. is already doomed by its government. It won’t exist by the time an earthquake hits.
    There should be a documentary on it any time now, titled, “The Stinking of L.A.”

  23. “…fault long thought dormant could devastate Los Angeles, researchers say …”

    In an environment of a subduction zone with continent plates riding out over ocean basin plates(“thrusting”) and long slip faults paralleling the coast, why would anyone think an old fault should remain dormant? Heck, you can get new ones, too! The Andes and the Cordillera ranges formed by buckling up under the enormous, inexorable tectonic stresses born by these rocks as the Americas drifted westward. Some grad student has chosen this fault as a thesis project and in typical post normal trickery needs to hype it up for funds.

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