Not just a movie: the facts on the San Andreas Fault
Not just a movie: the facts on the San Andreas Fault Dwayne Johnson, left, as Ray, and Carla Gugino as Emma, in a scene from the action thriller, "San Andreas" (- AP photos)
Not just a movie: the facts on the San Andreas Fault
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The San Andreas Fault awakens. It unleashes back-to-back jolts that leave a trail of misery from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Skyscrapers crumble. Fires erupt. The letters of the famous Hollywood sign topple. Tsunami waves swamp the Golden Gate Bridge.

Hollywood's favorite geologic bad guy is back in the movie "San Andreas." It's a fantastical look at one of the world's real seismic threats.

The San Andreas has long been considered one of the most dangerous earthquake faults. That's because of its length. At nearly 800 miles long, it cuts through California like a scar. It is responsible for some of the largest shakers in state history.

In the film, a previously unknown fault near the Hoover Dam in Nevada ruptures. It jiggles the San Andreas. Southern California is rocked by a powerful magnitude-9.1 quake. That is followed by an even stronger magnitude-9.6 in Northern California.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Susan Hough accompanied The Associated Press to an advance screening of the film. Despite the implausible plot, she said the San Andreas will indeed break again. It will happen without warning.

"We are at some point going to face a big earthquake," she said.

The San Andreas is notorious for producing big quakes. But a magnitude-9 or larger is virtually impossible. It's because the fault is not long or deep enough, Hough noted.

The 1960 magnitude-9.5 quake off Chile is the world record holder.

The San Andreas has revealed its awesome power before. In 1906, a magnitude-7.8 reduced parts of San Francisco to fiery rubble. Nearly five decades earlier, a similar-sized quake rattled the southern end of the fault.

In 2008, the USGS led a team of 300 experts that wrote a script. It detailed what would happen if a magnitude-7.8 hit the southern San Andreas. They wanted to create a science-based crisis scenario. It could be used for preparedness drills.

The lesson: It doesn't take a magnitude-9 or greater to wreak havoc. Researchers calculated a magnitude-7.8 would cause 1,800 deaths and 50,000 injuries. Hundreds of old brick buildings and concrete structures and a few high-rise steel buildings would collapse.

Computer models show the San Andreas is capable of producing a magnitude-8.3 quake. Anything larger is dubious.

In the film, Lawrence Hayes, a fictional seismologist at Caltech (a real university), notices spikes in "magnetic pulses" that light up California like a Christmas tree. They herald a monster quake.

Despite a century of research, earthquake prediction remains elusive. Scientists can't predict when a jolt is coming and are generally pessimistic about ever having that ability. Every warning sign scrutinized has failed. Those signs include animal behavior, weather patterns, electromagnetic signals, atmospheric observations and levels of radon gas in soil or groundwater.

"We wish it were as simple as the movie portrays. It isn't. Researchers have scoured every imaginable signal trying to find reliable precursors. But nothing has panned out," Hough said.

The latest focus has been on creating early warning systems. They could give residents and businesses a few seconds heads up after a quake hits, but before strong shaking is felt.

Japan has the most advanced seismic alert system in the world. The U.S. is currently testing a prototype.

Unlike the film, the San Andreas can't spawn tsunamis.

Most tsunamis are triggered by underwater quakes. They can also be caused by landslides, volcanoes and even meteor impacts.

Giant tsunami waves are formed when the Earth's crust violently shifts, displacing huge amounts of seawater. The larger the magnitude, the more these waves can race across the ocean without losing energy.

The San Andreas is a strike-slip fault. That means opposing blocks of rocks slide past each other horizontally. A big San Andreas quake can spark fires and other mayhem. But it can't displace water and flood San Francisco.

Hough said the movie got one aspect right: The tide suddenly ebbing out signals a tsunami is coming.

More than 80 mostly small tsunamis have been observed along California's coast in the past, triggered mainly by faraway quakes.

In the movie, the scientist warned that shaking would be felt on the East Coast. But even the largest possible San Andreas quake won't rattle the East Coast (sorry, New York).

While seismic waves from great quakes can make the Earth resound like a bell, the ringing can only be detected by sensitive instruments because it's so low.

Historical accounts show shaking from the 1906 San Andreas quake was barely felt in western Nevada and southern Oregon, Hough said.

When the ground starts to shake, the seismologist played by Paul Giamatti makes the ideal public service announcement: "Drop, cover and hold on."

Since 2008, millions of people in California and elsewhere have participated in yearly disaster drills. They practice diving under a table and learn other preparedness tips.

If you're outdoors when the ground moves, experts recommend bracing against a wall. It's a tactic similar to what search-and-rescue helicopter pilot Ray Gaines, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, told scared survivors in the movie.

Critical thinking challenge: Why can't the San Andreas fault cause a tsunami that drowns California?

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween56/not-just-movie-facts-san-andreas-fault/

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COMMENTS (134)
  • ChrisN0
    6/02/2015 - 08:49 a.m.

    This movie probably took a long time to make considering they had research facts about the fault that can occur at any time and nobody will know when it will occur.

  • jacke5-smi
    6/02/2015 - 08:57 a.m.

    I do not think that there will ever be an earthquake that big. The biggest earthquake in Chile was probably really bad, so I do not know what the movie's earthquake would be on the Richter scale but probably pretty big.

  • gabriellag5-smi
    6/02/2015 - 09:09 a.m.

    I think the San Andreas Fault might drown California but might not. When I watched the movie I believed everything that was in it. But now since I read this article I know what would actually happen. So I guess California would stay above water then. But the San Andreas Fault will cause many, many deaths and lots of destruction. My dad told me that if Florida got hit by an earthquake, it would definitely go underwater because it's only 5 feet above sea level. Anyways, about California, I wouldn't want to live there because the San Andreas Fault could happen and I would probably die or be injured while it happened. I will only be lucky if I survived.

  • pablov918
    6/02/2015 - 10:38 a.m.

    i seen the movie and it is sooo good i think people who live where the san andreas fault is scared because scientist can't predict when itis going to happen

  • kevinb728
    6/02/2015 - 10:41 a.m.

    Tsunamis can't happen because an underwater earth quake has to happen. The San Adreas fault is a transform boundary on land. So, tsunamis can't happen.

    • laisham-bas
      6/02/2015 - 12:40 p.m.

      Tsunamis can happen, it states in the article, but when the tsunamis happen, it's from other earth quakes and landslides. So it is possible that Tsunamis can happen I California.

  • SeabassK-5
    6/02/2015 - 11:02 a.m.

    This article is about the movie "San Andreas" sending memories back to when the San Andreas fault happened. The San Andreas has long been considered one of the most dangerous earthquake faults. That's because of its length. At nearly 800 miles long, it cuts through California like a scar. It is responsible for some of the largest shakers in state history. Southern California is rocked by a powerful magnitude-9.1 quake. That is followed by an even stronger magnitude-9.6 in Northern California. U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Susan Hough accompanied The Associated Press to an advance screening of the film. Despite the implausible plot, she said the San Andreas will indeed break again. It will happen without warning."We are at some point going to face a big earthquake," she said. The San Andreas has revealed its awesome power before. In 1906, a magnitude-7.8 reduced parts of San Francisco to fiery rubble. Nearly five decades earlier, a similar-sized quake rattled the southern end of the fault. Computer models show the San Andreas is capable of producing a magnitude-8.3 quake. Anything larger is dubious. Unlike the film, the San Andreas can't spawn tsunamis.Most tsunamis are triggered by underwater quakes. They can also be caused by landslides, volcanoes and even meteor impacts. Why would they make a movie about such a awful event? will this movie deeply affect some people?

  • MauricioMBlue
    6/02/2015 - 12:05 p.m.

    I'm scared that the San Andreas fault is gonna cause that much damage to California, there's always been talk about the huge earthquakes that are going to happen in California, I hope they do something about it!

  • MauricioMBlue
    6/02/2015 - 12:05 p.m.

    I'm scared that the San Andreas fault is gonna cause that much damage to California, there's always been talk about the huge earthquakes that are going to happen in California, I hope they do something about it!

  • davida1-bas
    6/02/2015 - 12:19 p.m.

    It can't flood San Francisco because the San Andreas Fault is a "slip fault" meaning that the rocks move in a weirder way so it prevents the flooding problem that the movie thinks they will have.

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