Sunday, December 24, 2006

I’ll Be Quaked for Christmas

Over the past few days, there have been half a dozen earthquakes on the same spot under the University of California at Berkeley. (Note to trivia buffs: in the Bay Area, “Berkeley” means the city; the university is referred to as “Cal.” The Berkeley campus is the flagship of the whole system.) The smallest tremors were barely perceptible microquakes—1.6 on the Richter scale. The biggest were in the 3.5 to 3.7 range—big enough to feel, small enough to do no damage.

Earthquakes this tiny happen all the time, but there’s something a touch disturbing about the repeated hammering on one spot. Seismologists dismiss worries that the cluster of temblors is a precursor to the big one.

“We think we have a small patch of the fault which is having a creep episode,” Oppenheimer said. “Does it mean a big one is coming? There's a slightly enhanced probability that this could be a foreshock, but it's a very low probability.”

I’m spending Christmas day a couple of miles from the epicenter. Given that some of the most devastating earthquakes have happened on religious holidays—the 1964 Alaska earthquake (magnitude 9.2, third largest earthquake ever recorded) on Good Friday; the 1906 San Francisco earthquake on Easter Sunday, the magnitude 9.3 2004 earthquake and tsunami on Boxing Day—I won’t be at all surprised if the Hayward Fault chooses Christmas as the day to cut loose.

Apparently Mother Earth gets overstressed by the holidays, just like the rest of us.

No comments: