Interview: USGS Quake Expert on Likelihood of 9.0 Earthquake in California and Pacific Northwest

On Friday, after the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami had hit Japan, Gretchen Weber of KQED’s Climate Watch spoke with Tom Brocher, Director of the Earthquake Science Center at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. Pretty interesting conversation for those of us who live in quake territory. After cautioning to be mindful of the tsunami’s effects for 12 hours after the first waves struck (the tsunami advisory has now been canceled), he got into the subject of giant earthquakes.

Some things that Mr. Brocher pointed out:

  • The type of giant quake that hit Japan Thursday is not expected to menace the Bay Area, where the 7.9 quake of 1906 is thought to be at the upper limit of quakes in the area. The Japan quake was 30 times larger than the 1906 quake, and 900 times the size of the Loma Prieta temblor in 1989.
  • North of California, however is another story. A magnitude 9.0 or above quake in the Pacific Northwest is expected. Those quakes, which are the product of vast and deep faults, are characterized by their severity and the duration of shaking when they strike. Brocher said strong shaking lasted for 3-5 minutes during Thursday’s tembler.
  • A quake in the 9.0 range occurs in the Pacific Northwest region every 300 – 500 years. The last one was in 1700, which scientists know because of a tsunami that was recorded in Japan at the time.

    Listen to Tom Brocher of the USGS discuss Japan’s giant earthquake

    • Ken Hays

      Good info & thanks for sharing.
      I have a question for Mr. Brocher. With the release of a lare part of the friction that had built over the years along that subduction zone and the resultant 8 foot eastward movement of Japan, alledgedly due to the release and rebound of the overbearing plate on which most the country lies, then is it possible that parts of the county will also lose elevation due to the relaxation and subsidence the plates of that area?


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor