Increased Seismic Activity Due to Snowmelt in California

Posted May 2, 2019, under Blog

There’s been an increase in seismic activity throughout California thanks to the surge in rain and snow.

The new data was presented by the U.S. Geological Survey earlier this week, which tracked a swarm of earthquakes in 2017 near the Mammoth Mountain area. The research found that over a few weeks period, the area experienced about 100 minor quakes.

What’s the correlation to weather? Well, during the same time period (2016-2017) the region experienced a very high level of flooding due to melting snow. The area had one of the heaviest snow seasons that year, which resulted in some of the largest snowpacks in California that have ever been recorded.

2019 has likewise seen a record amount of snowfall, which has led researchers from the USGS to see if these seismic swarms could be linked to volcanic activity.

Unlike typical volcanic activity which moves fluid upward through the earth’s crust, in this scenario it was fluid moving downward into the earth’s layers.

The data generated from 2017’s heavy snowpack and 2019’s snowy season, led researchers to make the correlation that high levels of snowmelt could be responsible for the increased seismic activity.

The correlation led researchers to examine seismic activity in the Mammoth region during years of record-breaking snowfall. Between 1984-2017, “earthquake swarms” tended to occur on some of the wettest days of the year.

“I think the discovery of these snowmelt swarms might be the biggest new interpretation of something that’s happened there. I think in the past people have seen these swarms, but assumed it was unrelated to the magmatic system,” Emily Montgomery-Brown, a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey said of the phenomenon (via L.A. Times).

The USGS plans to continue to monitor the area for seismic activity and volcanic activity. While researchers are expecting an increase in seismic activity in the May-June period, the quakes may not be as strong as they were in 2017.

“Sometimes in a big, wet year like last year, it can release all of the strains so the swarms might not be as big as the year before,” Brown continued.

Making the comparison that it’s similar to “a person exerting all their energy at an amusement park in one day, leading to a less active disposition on day two.”

Scientists have been monitoring the volcanic activity in the area – the same volcano that erupted 760,000 years ago, covering California in ash – since the 1908s when a series of earthquakes caused the volcano to actively rise.

While there are more warning signs before a volcano erupts (in comparison to a major earthquake), the chances of a volcanic eruption in California is as similar as a major earthquake happening along the San Andreas fault.

In addition to these new findings on the correlation between increased snowmelt and seismic activity, the USGS released data earlier this year finding that California’s “earthquake drought” is likely to come to an end in the next decade – meaning we can expect multiple, large earthquakes throughout the state.

As we head into this next period of (anticipated) increased earthquake activity, it’s important as a California resident, to take the proper precautions for earthquake survival and safety.

Julian De La Torre is an expert in Los Angeles foundation inspection, foundation contractors,earthquake retrofitting, and foundation repair. Julian’s company, Julian Construction, has inspected over 15,000 structures, working with engineering firms and local departments of building & safety. The company has done more foundation repair and earthquake retrofitting in Los Angeles than any other company in the area over the last five years.

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