Could a tsunami swamp California?

June 1, 2015

Borderlands-Map-279x300A Southern California geologist is warning of the possibility of a tsunami slamming into Los Angeles and wreaking havoc on California’s coastline. [NBC News]

Mark Legg, the lead author of a newly published study, says offshore faults are capable of generating magnitude-8 earthquakes and triggering tsunamis in the state. The tsunamis may just produce 1 or 2-meter surges, but they could have huge impacts on Southern California’s ports, Legg says.

On Friday, the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface published Legg’s study, which focuses on the seismic potential of the California Continental Borderland region. The Borderland, which includes the Channel Islands, contains several underwater faults that are caused by the Pacific tectonic plate and the North American Plate grinding against one another.

Within the region, Legg focused on the Santa Cruz-Catalina Ridge Fault and Ferrelo Fault, both of which he says are capable of generating magnitude-8 quakes. Legg argues the seismic potential of the area has not been examined carefully and more resources should be devoted to mapping the seafloor.

Other earthquake experts insist the hazard posed by the faults has been sufficiently studied. Additionally, critics are questioning Legg’s timing.

Legg published the study just as the Hollywood film San Andreas was being released. The movie depicts the San Andreas Fault generating a massive earthquake that rips through California.

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Laugh all you want, take lots of cheap shots at the government ( often deserved) and point out predictions that have not yet materialized, if that makes you feel better. However, it might be a good idea to also rethink your position for the long view. “It couldn’t happen here” was the line the government and utility corporations gave to the Japanese and notice how that turned out.

Geology 101 would inform you that in all recorded history there had only been a handful of events of a magnitude 9, that is until recently, when we have had several in the space of less than a decade. Magnitude 4-5 and larger, often several in the same day were not the daily occurances that they are now. Lucky for us, most of this has been to the south and east and the worst have occured on the other side of a very large ocean. But, not so fortunately, on the opposite side of the geologic plate we share. Things in nature have a way of coming into balance.

Historically, there have been several tsunamis 50-100′ high in SLO South County that were reported in the papers in the 1800’s. One of them wiped out the original oil tanks in Avila, which were above 50′. A mere blink in geologic time and caused by events far smaller than this area is capable of experiencing. For my money, we should at least shut down the shoreline nuke we are living next to.

As Dirty Harry would say, ” Feeling lucky,… punk?”.