Scientists have identified a previously unknown fault line in Canada, raising concerns about a potential tsunami threat for over a million Americans in the Northwestern U.S.
The fault, named XEOLXELEK-Elk Lake Fault (XELF), spans approximately 50 miles through British Columbia, as reported by the Daily Mail.
The fault's discovery, made by a team including Nick Harrichhausen, a postdoctoral researcher at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France, highlights its potential to trigger a significant earthquake in Canada.
Harrichhausen stated that the fault's structure could induce a tsunami in the region surrounding the Georgia Basin, affecting Washington State and British Columbia areas.
The XELF, characterized as a "dip-slip" fault, involves the vertical movement of two rock blocks, increasing the risk of underwater ruptures that could lead to tsunami formation.
"Because we document dip-slip, which produced vertical offset of the Earth's surface, and the fact this fault would likely rupture underwater, there is potential — an earthquake on this fault would produce a local tsunami in the Georgia Basin," said Harrichhausen.
The affected region includes Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia in the U.S. and Vancouver, Victoria, and Whistler in Canada.
Harrichhausen emphasized the active nature of the fault, citing evidence of a major earthquake with a magnitude between 6.1 and 7.6 on the Richter scale occurring along the XELF approximately 2,300 to 4,700 years ago. Such seismic events pose a significant threat, especially given the proximity to urban areas.
"An earthquake of these magnitudes would be damaging, especially given its proximity to urban areas,'' Harrichhausen said. ''In terms of a timeline, it is not possible to predict when the next earthquake will be."
In comparison, a magnitude 6 earthquake possesses a force equivalent to 60 million kilograms of TNT, while a magnitude 7 quake carries the power of 20 billion kilograms.
While it remains challenging to predict when the next earthquake might occur, Harrichhausen urged residents to prepare for potential disasters. He advised maintaining several days' worth of essential supplies, including food, water, medicine, and emergency provisions, and securing large furniture.
The study, recently published in the AGU journal Tectonics, details the team's exploration of the fault line through trench digging, revealing signs of past earthquakes and shifts in the geological landscape. The researchers used magnetic field changes to analyze differences in magnetism among minerals in rocks, pinpointing the fault's activity within the last 12,000 years.
Harrichhausen acknowledged the difficulty in calculating earthquake recurrence intervals but stressed the importance of further studies to understand better the hazard posed by XELF.
Jim Thomas ✉
Jim Thomas is a writer based in Indiana. He holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, a law degree from U.I.C. Law School, and has practiced law for more than 20 years.
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