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Quake Study Offers New Clues on a California Fault's Mystery

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

Thanks to a new method of modeling earthquakes, scientists may now understand why the Parkfield segment of the San Andreas Fault--a carefully studied region known for producing moderate temblors every 20 years or so--has been behaving unexpectedly since around the time Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Taking data collected by sensors on the ground and in space and combining them with observations from laboratory physics experiments, Caltech researchers conducted a computer simulation of tectonic events at Parkfield and discovered that a series of small quakes there may have staved off a larger shaker that geologists predicted would occur in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Instead, the fault produced a magnitude 6.0 quake in 2004, more than a decade behind schedule.

Someday, exercises like this could help scientists make predictions about the worst-case scenario for different spots along a fault line, said Nadia Lapusta, coauthor of a study about the research published Thursday in the journal Science.

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