U.S. Geological Survey

A 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern California earlier this month.

Adriana Catanzarite
Special to Mustang News

With a magnitude-6.9 earthquake striking off the coast of northern California earlier this month and a magnitude-4.4 quake rocking the Los Angeles area on March 17, one Cal Poly professor said it’s still unclear where “the big one” will strike.

“The southern San Andreas Fault and the Hayward Fault in the East Bay are thought to be the most likely to have an earthquake with a magnitude greater than 7 sometime in the next 30 years,” said John Jasbinsek, a geology and geophysics assistant professor. “But that’s based on an estimate, which Mother Nature is free to ignore.”

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While the San Andreas Fault in Southern California gets the most attention for producing earthquakes, experts say the northern coast of California is one of the most seismically active in the state.

“It was near the Mendocino Triple Junction where three tectonic plates come together,” Jasbinsek said. “It’s an unstable configuration. It’s expected to have earthquakes of that size.”

The Pacific, North American and Juan de Fuca tectonic plates are pushing up against one another along the northern coast of California. The North American plate gets dragged down because of the friction, and every couple hundred years, it snaps back up, causing large-scale earthquakes.

Because the fault line is located under the ocean, some expect a destructive tsunami along with the next earthquake.

San Luis Obispo sits on the San Andreas, as well several other smaller fault lines.

“A few years ago, the Shoreline Fault was discovered by the U.S. Geological Survey,” Jasbinsek said. “(The fault) runs from the Avila Beach area along the coastline and past the nuclear power plant, and that has caused a lot of local debate by state and federal agencies about re-licensing the plant.”

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