California has been bracing for a major earthquake along the San Andreas fault for a while now. At the National Earthquake Conference in May 2016,a major earthquake scientist described the fault as being “locked, loaded, and ready to go” in a warning that a major earthquake was imminent. A new fault running parallel to the San Andreas was also recently discovered by a team of scientists. In addition to those two troubling pieces of earthquake news, a completely new kind of earthquake has just been discovered.
A team of scientists from Caltech in Pasadena used powerful seismic sensors to discover earthquakes at a much deeper level than previously thought possible. Earthquakes are occurring as deep as the upper level of the Earth’s mantle. The discovery was made along the Newport-Inglewood fault line. Although the earthquakes they have detected at this level have so far been very minor, this discovery has potentially huge implications. If a major earthquake penetrates down to that deep level, it could be even more devastating.
The implication is particularly chilling because the San Andreas is the same type of fault line as the Newport-Inglewood fault line, suggesting that these deep level earthquakes could occur there as well. There is still more research to be done before scientists can fully understand what this discovery means and how it could impact California and the world. Some scientists even suggest these deep earthquakes could be good news, and actually might prevent a massive quake rather than make it bigger. Caltech seismology professor Jean Paul Ampuero was one of the scientists behind the discovery. He sees the possible negative implications, but also says “I wouldn’t say that this is cause for alarm at this point.” Either way, the discovery has been an important breakthrough for earthquake science.