UCI Scientists Shake Up History Channel's Megaquake 10.0, But Is 'Big One' Threat Real?

UCI Scientists Shake Up History Channel's Megaquake 10.0, But Is 'Big One' Threat Real?

Two UC Irvine scientists are among the experts featured in tonight's world-premiere showing of Megaquake 10.0 on the History Channel. The two-hour special is set to shake up your flat-screen at 9 p.m., but, as Fritz and Fred always say, check local listings to confirm the time.

The UCI academics offering insight into how and where a 10.0 megaquake could strike and what its impacts might be are public-health professor Lisa Grant Ludwig and emergency-medicine clinical professor Kristi L. Koenig.

The largest shaker ever recorded was a 9.5 earthquake off Chile in 1960, but research shows quakes close to 10.0 might be possible. And here's an even more sobering notion: More than 3 billion people on our blue planet are supposedly in immediate danger from the next "Big One." Not exactly comforting here in Earthquake Alley, is it?

Ludwig, who is UCI's seismologist, was the principal investigator of a study that concluded earthquakes have rocked the powerful San Andreas fault that splits California far more often than previously thought--and that a major quake could happen on the fault sooner rather than later.

Koenig's expertise lies in the aftermath of disasters. Co-director of Emergency Medical Services and the Disaster Medical Sciences Fellowship at the UCI School of Medicine, Koenig was traveling the world, providing crisis medical training and lectures long before 9/11.

But are megaquakes megacrap? I located the ripping broken Earth illustration that began this post on a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) web page that seeks to contextualize the "Big One" threat depicted in disaster movies and the news media.

"The idea of a 'Mega-Quake'--an earthquake of magnitude 10 or larger--while theoretically possible--is very highly unlikely," the USGS informs. "Earthquake magnitude is based in part on the length of faults--the longer the fault, the larger the earthquake. The simple truth is that there are no known faults capable of generating a magnitude 10 or larger 'mega-quake.'"

The bold emphasis is theirs, not mine. It's also how the USGS shakes up another long-standing myth.

"Then there's this business of California falling off into the ocean. NOT TRUE! The ocean is not a great hole into which California can fall, but it is itself land at a somewhat lower elevation with water above it. It's absolutely impossible that California will be swept out to sea. Instead, southwestern California is moving ever so slowly (2 inches per year) toward Alaska as it slides past central and eastern California. 15 million years (and many earthquakes) from now, Los Angeles and San Francisco will be next-door neighbors."

That's no doubt scarier than a megaquake to many Orange Countians.


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