A study has discovered a new fault in Southern California that could impact seismic models in the area recently hit by a swarm of earthquakes that some thought signaled a larger one to come shortly.
Scientists from the University of California San Diego and the University of Nevada, Reno mapped the Salton Trough Fault, which lies along the eastern edge of the Salton Sea and runs parallel to the San Andreas Fault, just west of it.
“To aid in accurately assessing seismic hazard and reducing risk in a tectonically active region, it is crucial to correctly identify and locate faults before earthquakes happen,” Valerie Sahakian, a UC San Diego alumna and lead author of the study, said in a press release.
Understanding where the fault lines are helps those who make "earthquake rupture and ground-shaking models," the release read, which can help planners save lives and property in the long run.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, and the research team used several tools to map the strike-slip fault in and near the sea's bottom.
The mapping is just one step in determining how the fault interacts with the San Andreas Fault and affects seismic activity in the area.
A magnitude-7 earthquake usually hits the area about every 175-200 years but it's now been 300 years since the last one.
Despite the discovery, there's still much to learn about the fault, Nevada State Seismologist and coauthor of the study Graham Kent said.
"Based on the deformation patterns, this new fault has accommodated some of the strain from the larger San Andreas system, so without having a record of past earthquakes from this new fault, it’s really difficult to determine whether this fault interacts with the southern San Andreas Fault at depth or in time," he said.
Copyright 2016 KPNX