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Brian Dunbar

Headquarters, Washington, D.C.


February 4, 1994
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

Jim Doyle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
(Phone: 818/354-5011)

RELEASE: 94-19

NASA TRACKS LAND-SURFACE MOVEMENT IN JAN. 17 EARTHQUAKE

Oat Mountain in the Santa Susana range, just north of the San
Fernando Valley, jumped several inches during the 6.6 earthquake
that struck Los Angeles on Jan. 17, said a scientist at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.

Other locations, including some communities, also were jerked


into new positions, said Dr. Andrea Donnellan, a JPL geophysicist.

The 3,618-foot-high (1,103 meters) mountain, jumped up 14.8


inches (38 centimeters). It also moved north 6.2 inches (16
centimeters) and west 5.5 inches (14 centimeters).

JPL has continuously operated stations at Oat Mountain and at


Cal State University, Northridge, since the earthquake. The data
suggest that Oat Mountain has risen about one more inch (2 to 3
centimeters) since the quake. The site also moved slightly more
than an inch (3 centimeters) back to the south after the 5.0
aftershock Jan. 29.

"This is mountain building in progress," said Donnellan.


Donnellan and her colleagues measured the movements of the
mountain and several other Southern California locations following
the devastating earthquake using Global Positioning System (GPS)
instruments -- ground receivers that track orbiting navigation
satellites.

The Defense Department's GPS network includes 24


Earth-orbiting satellites at 12,400 miles (20,000 kilometers) that
send microwave transmissions to ground receivers worldwide.

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NASA collects data from a global network of 45 stations. The


data tells scientists how far the Earth's surface has moved in any
given period of time. In addition, portable instruments are
deployed at other locations around the world.

Donnellan said the 6.6 quake occurred on a fault at the


southern and eastern edge of the Ventura Basin, a 62-mile
(100-kilometer) by 6-mile (10 kilometer) sub-surface feature that
stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the San Fernando Valley. At
9.3 miles (15 kilometers) deep, the basin is one of the deepest
sedimentary basins on Earth, she said.

Donnellan had been studying the basin since 1987 and came to
the conclusion its deep faults were capable of causing a serious
earthquake. In a paper she published in the science journal
Nature last November, she predicted the basin could suffer an
approximately 6.4-magnitude earthquake.

Her studies, using the GPS instruments, indicated the basin


was being squeezed from north and south about 0.3 inches (7
millimeters) a year by the movement of the Santa Susana and Santa
Ynez ranges.

"It's a north-south closure of the valley," she said. The


figures came from analysis of data recorded in the GPS receivers
at several locations around the basin.

She said she and her colleagues used computer modeling to


look at the faults beneath the basin from a considerable depth up
to the surface and saw they were locked, that is, not slipping to
relieve strain. From that model they calculated the potential
magnitude of a quake that could strike the region. Although the
scientists predicted the locale and size of the earthquake, they
could not predict when such a quake might occur.
The Oat Mountain receiver was the location closest to the
quake's epicenter and over the highest density of aftershocks.
The epicenter was in the valley community of Reseda. The fault,
however, is not a single point, but affects a large section of
surface ground. The hardest hit area was the community of
Northridge, immediately adjacent to Reseda. Most of Northridge
overlies the ruptured fault plane.

Several other communities along the basin also were jerked


into new positions. GPS data indicated that the community of
Fillmore in Ventura County, which lost much of its downtown
section, moved west 2 inches (5 centimeters). The region near
Castaic moved southwest 4.3 inches (11 centimeters) and down 3.5
inches (9 centimeters). Santa Paula and Moorpark also were moved
westward 1 to 2 inches (approximately 2.5 to 5 centimeters) and
the Point Dune area moved due north 1.5 inches (4 centimeters).

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In addition to analyzing scientific data from the earthquake,


NASA's Airborne Science and Applications program has been
conducting surveys of the damage in the area. Data from
instruments aboard NASA's C-130 and ER-2 aircraft has been
provided to the Federal Emergency Management Administration and
local governments to help them assess the damage.

Both JPL's GPS studies and the aircraft surveys, managed by


NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif., are funded by
NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth, Washington, D.C.
Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) is studying how Earth's global
environment is changing. Using the unique perspective available
from space, NASA is observing, monitoring and assessing
large-scale environmental processes, focussing on climate change.

MTPE satellite data, complemented by aircraft and ground


data, is allowing scientists to better understand environmental
changes and to distinguish human-induced changes from natural
changes. MTPE data, which NASA is distributing to researchers
worldwide, is essential to humans making informed decisions about
protecting their environment.

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