Kristine Lofgren

The Next California Earthquake Could Be Caused by Human-Made Drought

by , 05/15/14

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California’s drought is causing all sorts of problems, but one of the most surprising is the fact that the water shortage may actually increase the chance of an earthquake. New research shows that the loss of water in the Central Valley is putting additional stress on the San Andreas fault, which could lead to an earthquake. Scientists have no information on when the earthquake could occur or how large it might be, but this is one of the first times that human activity has been blamed for possibly contributing to a quake on the fault.


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Researchers at Western Washington University used GPS networks to understand the movements in the Central Valley. The valley has been dropping for years, while at the same time, the surrounding mountains have been moving upward, causing the fault to destabilize. But now, irrigation, pumping and evaporation has caused the valley to dry out more, causing more shift and putting more pressure on the fault.

Related: The Latest Drilling Boom in California is All About Water
Normally as groundwater is used, it is replaced over time. But water use is exceeding the rate of replacement, meaning that overall water is being depleted. According to Paul Lundgren, a scientist with NASA, “the more you deplete that groundwater, the more you keep promoting that fault towards failure.” If water demands continue to increase, the effect will also increase. Although no one knows for sure when the fault will shift, it is shockingly apparent that human activity may be hastening things.

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Shutterstock, image via Gabriel Millos

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