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The study – the most extensive of its kind – examined a section of the San Andreas fault that runs along Interstate 5, near Frazier Mountain in northeast Kern County.
“One of the reasons why this location is of importance is because in Southern California, the Big Bend, Carrizo, and Mojave sections of the San Andreas Fault accommodate 50-70% of plate motion. This means that the seismic hazard is high,” according to Temblor.
The most common magnitude found at the site was 7.5.
A 7.9 earthquake in 1857 – the last major temblor to strike – was so powerful that it caused the soil to liquify and trees to sink and uproot. The shaking lasted between one and three minutes.
Since then, land on either side of the fault has been pushing against the other at a rate of more than 1in per year, accumulating energy which will be suddenly released in a major earthquake that would move land along the fault line by many feet.
A repeat of the 1857 quake could move the land as much as 20ft, damage aqueducts that ferry water into Southern California from the north, disrupt transmission lines, and damage Interstate 5.
Although the researchers noted that a big earthquake is certain, they couldn't predict when it will happen because they “don't happen like clockwork.”
For instance, while there was once a gap of just 20 years between two temblors, another pair saw a gap of 200 years between them.
The average interval between quakes was found to be approximately 100 years, meaning the gap separating today from the 1857 earthquake is already 60 years more than the average.