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Major Earthquake is Likely to Devastate the Pacific Northwest

Aug 16, 2016 05:42 AM EDT

Recent research has found that the Pacific Northwest has a 20 percent chance of being hit by a major earthquake.

People living in the region, particularly in Northern Oregon, are under the threat of a megaquake with a magnitude of 8.0 or above in the next 50 years, which is the first in over 300 years, The Atlantic reports.

On January 26, 1700, the small tectonic plate named Juan de Fuca had slipped and caused a magnitude-9.0 earthquake, which devastated the coast of Oregon and Washington. Some reports claimed that several people living in the region had died in the flooding overnight. The quake had also triggered a tsunami in Japan 10 hours later.

According to an article published in The New Yorker, the catastrophic incident could happen again. Writer Kathryn Schulz had raised awareness about the existence of the Cascadia subduction zone and its power to shake the whole region with "a really big one," causing alarm to the millions of people currently inhabiting the Pacific Northwest.

The Cascadia subduction zone is a fault line that lies north of the San Andreas fault. It runs 700 miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, starting from near Cape Mendocino, California, running along Oregon and Washington, and ending around Vancouver Island, Canada.

But as the plate continues to slide under the great North American plate, researchers could detect near-undetectable earthquakes about every year or so. Scientists at Oregon State University, led by geologist Chris Goldfinger, found that at least 43 major earthquakes had occurred in the last 10,000 years.

According to the study, the number is slightly bigger than previous estimates. Previous studies showed that Washington State will be hit by a major quake every 500 years on average. But Goldfinger and his team now show that the earthquake could occur every 430 years.

This follows that northern Oregon, which used to be hit by a quake about every 430 years, will be under the threat of a big one every 350 years, the researchers said. This means that in the next 50 years, Oregon has a 17 to 20 percent chance of being hit by another megaquake, following the catastrophic jolt that happened in the region 300 years ago.

The study also showed that the San Francisco Bay area has a 50 percent chance of being hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in the next 30 years, while Los Angeles has a 93 percent chance.

But the researchers warned that a major rapture in Cascadia would be more powerful and more catastrophic than any of the Californian quakes.

"Now it's turned into a regional semi-panic, and that's not entirely a bad thing," Goldfinger told The Atlantic. "We do have a big problem, and we do have a long way to go, and if we don't panic a little bit, we'll never get anywhere."

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