A small earthquake shook Santa Barbara at 10:49 p.m yesterday, coincidentally just hours after a new report from experts predicted that California would almost certainly experience a large-scale earthquake sometime in the next 30 years. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that last night’s quake – a magnitude 3.2 on the Richter scale and the first appreciable shaker since a magnitude 3.4 that occurred last November – was centered in the Santa Barbara Channel, just two miles from downtown Santa Barbara.
Of course, seasoned earthquake veterans might not have even noticed this relatively insignificant seismic movement. But that won’t be the case for some Californians, according to yesterday’s report. The Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF) predicts a 99 percent chance of the state experiencing a temblor with a magnitude of 6.7 or higher in the next 30 years – and a 46 percent chance of one with a magnitude of 7.5 or higher. (For the sake of comparison, the 1994 Northridge earthquake was of 6.7 magnitude. It killed 57 people and caused $12.5 billion in damage.) These predictions – the first to ever predict seismic activity for all of the state of California – resulted from a three-year collaboration of seismologists, geologists, and experts in geodesy, a field of study that involves measurements of locations on the planet’s surface. Major organizations involved in the forecast include Southern California Earthquake Center, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the California Geological Survey.
The report includes predictions for earthquakes in specific cities and along specific faults. For example, the scientists estimate a 67 percent chance of a 6.7-magnitude earthquake striking Los Angeles, and a 65 percent chance for San Francisco. The southern section of the San Andreas fault is the one with the highest chance of a violent rupture – 59 percent between now and the year 2039. Though the San Andreas runs down the California coast, Santa Barbara lies southwest of the fault’s central segment, not its southern.