Our Trembling Earth
by Paul RemeikaEducational Bulletin #10-2
A publication of the Desert Protective Council www.dpcinc.org
“Earthquakes Shake Valley.” “Quakes Jar Wide Area.” “QuakeBiggest Known in Desert.” “Twin Quakes Jolt Area.” “AtershocksKeep Desert on Edge.” “5.6 earthquake rattles region.” “DesertQuakes Shake up the World o Geology.” “Earthquake centeredon active, dangerous ault.” “7.2 quake rocks region.”On a scale worthy o Genesis, a zig-zag pattern o
strike-slip aults such as the Cerro Prieto, Imperial, and SanAndreas tears the land horizontally in a northwest right-lateralsense, osetting in opposite directions the northernmost sea-oor spreading centers that have migrated up the Gul o Cali-ornia. Like the seams on a baseball they defne pull-apart basinsalong a plate boundary as Alta and Baja Caliornia rit and ratobliquely away rom mainland Mexico, opening up a new seaway flled by the Sea o Cortez. In doing so, new crust is generatedbeneath these basins at Cerro Prieto, Brawley Seismic Zone, andat the Salton Buttes.Other dynamic aults, such as the brutally-powerul San Ja-cinto, Elsinore, Laguna Salada, and Sierra Juarez, stretch and thinthe crust through dip-slip (vertical) motion with subordinatestrike-slipping. They control elongated northwest-trending desertmountain ranges like the ault-bounded Sierra Cucapá, with itsasymmetric sedimentary basin (Laguna Salada), both canted intothe depths o the Salton Basin incompletely buried in a vast arenao sand and sea. These aults have uplited the Peninsular Rangesand widened the valley, making it one o the lowest and driestplaces on the North American continent.As a daily consequence o aulting, or indigestion, earthquakesare dangerous natural hazards that annually assault the troubledbelly o the Salton Basin. This restlessness has triggered at least 34earthquakes greater than M6.0 in the basin since 1850. That’s anaverage o one such strong earthquake every 4.6 years. Since 1954the area has experienced 50 shakers measuring M5.0 or greater,and thousands o lesser events. It is one o the most geologically intense places on Earth. Up until April 4, 2010, it had been 23 years since the last large temblor occurred within the basin— theM6.6 Superstition Hills Earthquake on November 24, 1987.
Dancing With Demons
The Salton Basin is indeed restless, as quake-jittery residentso Brawley, El Centro, and Mexicali can attest. The most recentswaying began between February 8 and 21, 2008 as a swarm o 500temblors shook the ground beneath Guadalupe Victoria and theCerro Prieto Volcano. The largest, on February 8, measured M5.4.It was powerul enough to knock out electricity and cellphone ser-vice to over hal a million people in Mexicali. This initial shake wasollowed by two modest atershocks three days later on February 11, registering M5.1 and M5.0. More rumbles occurred on Febru-ary 27 when six earthquakes measuring between M3.0 and M4.1hit along the Imperial Fault. These harbingers raised the bloodpressure o the scientifc community, which sponsored a “GreatSouthern Caliornia Shakeout” drill on November 13, 2008. Thedrill simulated a mock M7.8 temblor with an epicenter beneathBombay Beach along the eastern shore o the Salton Sea.Four months later, between March 21 and 24, 2009, a handul
Photo 1: Quake damage to Calexico’s red-tagged Hotel de Anza. All photos by Paul Remeika