California Researchers Predict Location, Strength of Huge Earthquake

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Wed, Dec 25, 2013 at 7:02 AM
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While many of you are observing the miracle of Christmas, scientists are celebrating their own minor miracle this week.

See also: Earthquake Warning System Is Running in Los Angeles.

California researchers joined academics from Florida and Costa Rica to study a major Costa Rican fault. They accurately predicted the general area and size of a whopper of a temblor last year. Results of that project were released this week.

Good news for quake-prone Southern California? Well, one key element was left out of the prediction:

The time and date.

Yeah, the academics from UC Santa Cruz, Georgia Tech, the Costa Rica Volcanological and Seismological Observatory (OVSICORI), and the University of South Florida did a pretty amazing job of seeing this thing coming.

They figured it would be a 7.6. Costa Rica's Sept., 2012 rocker was a 7.8. They knew where it would be, too:

Along a particular stretch of "subduction zone" -- the kind of fault where one plate of earth slips underneath another -- in Nicoya.

But in terms of timing, they gave it a 20-year window. Clearly some work needs to be done there.

The research was just published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Susan Schwartz, professor of earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz and the study's co-author, says:

The Nicoya Peninsula is an ideal natural lab for studying these events, because the coastline geometry uniquely allows us to get our equipment close to the zone of active strain accumulation.

Researchers knew that temblors were hitting that fault about once every 50 years. So they set out to find a location and predict a size. To do that they focused on "the particular locked patch with the clearest potential for the next large earthquake in the region," according to a summary of their work.

They published a prediction before the quake hit, and they were right. Says Andrew Newman, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Tech:

It occurred right in the area we determined to be locked and it had almost the size we expected.

If you're looking for a time prediction, such a thing doesn't exist yet. But the U.S. Geological Survey has a "Shake Alert" system that can tell L.A. if a quake has already started inland and is heading our way as many as 90 seconds before it hits.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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