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Educational Bulletin 10-2 Our Trembling Earth

Educational Bulletin 10-2 Our Trembling Earth

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10/26/2010

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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.” “AtershocksKeep 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 
en echelon
 strike-slip aults such as the Cerro Prieto, Imperial, and SanAndreas tears the land horizontally in a northwest right-lateralsense, osetting 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 Caliornia rit and ratobliquely 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-powerul 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 uplited 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 powerul enough to knock out electricity and cellphone ser-vice to over hal a million people in Mexicali. This initial shake wasollowed by two modest atershocks 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 Caliornia 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 handul
Photo 1: Quake damage to Calexico’s red-tagged Hotel de Anza. All photos by Paul Remeika
 
o medium-sized M3.1-M3.3 quakes and several hundred smalleratershocks rattled the Salton Buttes. One stretch recorded a shockevery hour or 48 hours. In the middle o all this mayhem an M4.8thumper in the early morning hours o March 24, ollowed later by an M3.5 bump in the aternoon o April8 punched in where the San AndreasFault meets up with the spreading centerbeneath Bombay Beach. The swarm con-tinued or two more weeks triggering anunprecedented 400 microquakes.South o the border, more shakingabruptly jolted Guadalupe Victoria andCerro Prieto on March 29 (M4.2), April11 (M4.2), April 12 (M4.3), and June2 (M3.0). Between November 1 and 3,2009, the area o Heber and Calexicoalso got exciting when low-level seismicswarms along the Imperial Fault register-ing between M3.0–M4.1 gave residentsa renewed appreciation or the power o nature. They were ollowed by a wrench-ing M5.8 quake December 30 near CerroPrieto and the Imperial Fault. This quakewas elt as ar away as Kern County, Cali-ornia. Most o the shaking occurred inand around Mexicali where 90,000 peo-ple lost power or hal-an-hour. On Janu-ary 9, 2010, March 31, and April 4, the peace and quiet o the samegeneral area (Guadalupe Victoria) was shattered again at the M4.1,M4.2, and M4.3 levels, respectively: ominous warning signs that in-dicated a volcanically restless magma chamber beneath Cerro Pri-
Above
: Photo 2: Larry McCaffery straddles a crack on Mexico Route 2 south of Cerroel Centinela. Phillip Carskaddan on right.
Below
: locations of faults, earthquakes, andphotos discussed in the text. Graphic by Phillip Carskaddan and Paul Remeika
 
DateLocationMag.Fault or Fault Zone
unknown date CanebrakeM7.0+ElsinoreDec. 26 1775Terwilliger ValleyM5.2San JacintoNov. 29 1852Volcano LakeM6.5Cerro PrietoDec. 16 1858San BernardinoM6.0San JacintoNov. 15 1875Imperial ValleyM7.0ImperialFeb. 9 1891San JacintoM6.3San Jacinto July 30 1891Colorado River DeltaM7.0Cerro PrietoFeb. 23 1892Laguna SaladaM7.2*Laguna SaladaMay 28 1892HemetM6.3San JacintoOct. 23 1894JulianM5.6Elsinore July 22 1899Cajon PassM6.5San AndreasDec. 25 1899San JacintoM6.8San Jacinto Jan. 23 1903Colorado River DeltaM7.0Cerro PrietoApril 19 1906Imperial ValleyM6.0ImperialSep. 20 1907San BernardinoM6.0San Jacinto June 22 1915El CentroM6.1, M6.3ImperialNov. 20 1915Cerro PrietoM7.1Cerro PrietoApril 21 1918San JacintoM7.2San Jacinto July 23 1923San BernardinoM6.2San JacintoDec. 31 1934MexicaliM7.1Cerro PrietoMarch 25 1937Terwilliger ValleyM6.0San JacintoMay 18 1940El CentroM6.9ImperialApril 9 1941N. Gulf of CaliforniaM6.0Cerro PrietoOct. 21 1942Fish Creek Mts.M6.5Superstition HillsDec. 4 1948Desert Hot SpringsM6.5San Andreas (Mission Cr.)Nov. 4 1949N. Baja CaliforniaM5.7Sierra Juarez June 13 1953Imperial ValleyM5.5ImperialMarch 19 1954Arroyo SaladoM6.4San Jacinto (Clark)Nov. 12 1954N. Baja CaliforniaM6.3Sierra JuarezFeb. 9 1956El Alamo, BajaM6.8Cerro PrietoApril 9 1968Borrego Mt.M6.5San Jacinto (Coyote Cr.)April 28 1969Borrego ValleyM5.8San Jacinto (Coyote Cr.)Oct. 15 1979Imperial ValleyM6.6ImperialApril 26 1981WestmorlandM6.4Imperial July 8 1986North Palm SpringsM5.9San Andreas (Banning)Nov. 23 1987Elmore RanchM6.2Elmore RanchNov. 24 1987Superstition Mt.M6.6Superstition Hills Jan. 25 1988Sierra JuarezM5.1Sierra JuarezApril 22 1992Desert Hot SpringsM4.6San Andreas (Mission Cr.)April 22 1992Joshua Tree NPM6.1Eureka Peak June 28 1992LandersM7.3**Landers, related strands June 28 1992Big BearM6.6unkwn. transcurrent faultFeb. 8 2008Sierra Cucapá, BajaM5.4Laguna SaladaFeb. 11 2008Cerro Prieto, BajaM5.1, M5.0ImperialFeb. 19 2008Sierra Cucapá, BajaM5.0Laguna SaladaDec. 30 2009Guadalupe Victoria, BajaM5.8Laguna SaladaApril 4 2010El Mayor-Cucapah, BajaM7.2*Laguna SaladaMay 8 2010El Mayor-CucapahM4.8Laguna Salada-Elsinore June 12 2010Coyote CanyonM4.9, M4.5San Jacinto (Coyote Cr.) June 14 2010El Mayor-CucapahM5.7Laguna Salada-Elsinore
eto is set on medium-high, with the “stove” aboutto move.
El Mayor-Cucapah Earthquake
All preceding seismic activity in the Salton Basinpales in comparison to the Easter Sunday monster juggernaut M7.2 El Mayor-Cucapah Earthquakewhich stopped the clocks at 3:40 p.m. on April4, 2010. This powerul temblor sent seismographneedles jumping nervously up and down on roll-ing graphs, as surace rupture scarred a swath o destruction 43 miles long, initially liting partso the Sierra El Mayor and Sierra Cucapá moun-tain ranges a record-setting eight eet or morealong the periphery o the Laguna Salada playa.This shaker was Baja and Alta Caliornia’s largestearthquake since the M7.3 Landers Earthquakein June 1992. It was three times stronger than theM6.9 1940 El Centro quake on the Imperial Fault,nearly twice as strong as the M7.1 1934 Mexicaliquake on the Cerro Prieto Fault, and the worstnatural disaster elt in the Salton Basin since theM7.2 1892 blaster, which occurred in the samegeneral vicinity.Within seconds the peace and quiet o the Im-perial-Mexicali Valley was shattered. The mainshock epicenter was shallow-seated, located onthe southeastern end o the Laguna Salada Fault,only 11 miles west o the sparsely populated agri-cultural community o Guadalupe Victoria, and29 miles south rom Mexicali. In the maelstromo the moment, ground motion, building in in-tensity and traveling at speeds o two miles persecond, shook and shook and shook the SaltonBasin rom 40–90 seconds depending upon loca-tion. So much strain energy was transerred ontonearby ault lines that it triggered atershocks onthe Imperial, Cerro Prieto, Elsinore, and the SanJacinto aults, which are overdue or catastrophicrupture themselves. The enormous ury was eltby over 20 million people throughout the south-land, swaying high rise buildings rom Las Vegasto Santa Barbara, and rom Phoenix to Ensenada.In Los Angeles and San Diego, popular amuse-ment parks temporarily shut down as a precau-tionary measure. The Governor’s Ofce o Emer-gency Services and the San Diego and ImperialCounty Ofces o Disaster Preparedness issueda ormal “earthquake alert” or more damagingearthquakes to come within the Salton Basin.Extensive damage was reported in heavily-populated border communities. Quake-riddledMexicali was hardest hit, suering buckled andsevered roadways, highways and railroad lines;broken gas and water pipelines; communicationgridlock; fres; ooding; and over one millionpeople let without electrical power. Thousandso homes and businesses were destroyed or dam-aged leaving behind at least 35,000 people home-less. Making matters worse, 34 percent o the
Salton Basin Earthquake Almanac
* largest quakes. ** outside the basin but too large and close to leave out

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