'Slow slip' earthquake season raises risk of 'The Big One

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Phenomenon raises risk of 'Big One' roughly every 14 months

CBC News Posted: Feb 23, 2017 12:00 PM PT Last Updated: Feb 23, 2017 12:52 PM PT

B.C. is headed back into another one of its riskier seismic seasons, raising the risk of "The Big
One," earthquake experts say.

Every 14 months, the Cascadian subduction zone — which runs from northern Vancouver Island down to
northern California — experiences what seismologists call a "slow slip."

This year's slip has already kicked off underneath Washington State and is expected to reach B.C. any day
now.

More on 'slow slips' from CBC meterologist Johanna Wagstaffe

The phenomenon happens when seismic stress shifts onto the fault area where the Juan de Fuca and North
American plates lock together.

That causes thousands of mini-tremors and heightens the likelihood of a major earthquake event in B.C.,
according to seismologist Alison Bird.

"If that locked zone is close to critical, and you add more stress on to it ... that could trigger, theoretically, the
'megathrust' earthquake," said Bird, who works for the Geological Survey of Canada.

As for how much more risk that is, she says it's been likened to the increased risk of driving in rush hour
traffic.

"Going for a drive in the country on a Sunday, you're not that likely to be in a car accident. But if it's rush hour
in Vancouver and there's a game on ... you're more likely to be in an accident. You're not necessarily going to
be, but the probabilities are higher."

Tremors undetectable
The tremors caused by the slip are different from routine earthquakes that occur in the Pacific Northwest, and
they aren't felt on the surface because they originate so far underground.

"We look at a tremor as sort of a slow earthquake ... it's like you stretch a magnitude-3.0 earthquake over an
hour-and-a-half," Bird said.

During the last slow slip, which began in late December 2015, around 8,000 mini-tremors were recorded.

Two earthquakes off Vancouver Island and near Seattle, Wash. on Wednesday night aren't "at all related" to
the slip because they happened away from the locked-zone region, Bird said.

Interactive tremor map

She said the phenomenon almost serves as a calendar reminder to British Columbians to be prepared.

"We are living in a seismically active area. We will have damaging earthquakes — they're guaranteed,"

that sort of thing." With files from CBC's Johanna Wagstaffe .Bird said. to review their plan. "It's a good 'prompt' to make sure you're ready for an earthquake when it happens. "A lot of people use that cycle to remind them to check on their kit.