Vancouver Island is in for an extra dose of earthquakes this month thanks to an event known as a slow slip.
A lot of action will take place beneath our feet this March, and that could make for a greater risk of suffering the “Big One”.
It’s Not Your Fault… But it is a Fault Line
The two main culprits behind all the earth-shaking activity are the Juan de Fuca plate and the North America plate (pictured). Together, they make up the Cascadia Subduction Zone and its 1000 km fault line.
Over time, the Juan de Fuca plate has been moving towards and under the North America plate, causing stress to build.
Inevitably, that stress will have to be released, resulting in a megathrust earthquake, a.k.a “The Big One” we’ve all heard about.
Beware of Slow Slips
One important discovery scientists have made in predicting earthquakes is the phenomena of “slow slips” – an increase of stress on the fault.
“Every 14 months or so there’s a sudden reversal of movement [of Vancouver Island] for a couple of weeks,” Alison Bird, a Victoria-area Natural Resources Canada seismologist, told CBC News.
“It could be a last straw scenario, [where] just that little bit of extra stress that’s going to cause that rupture to trigger … the megathrust earthquake,” she said.
The last slow slip in Cascadia occurred from December 2016, to January 2017, with more than 8,000 slow slip earthquakes recorded along the fault line. It’s now been 14 months since that shakedown, putting us smack dab in the middle of another slow slip.
When is the next “Big One”?
The last time a megathrust earthquake struck the B.C. coast was on January 26, 1700. Scientists still can’t pinpoint when exactly the next one will hit, but estimates generally put the odds of the quake happening in the next 50 years as 1-in-10.
So, the “Big One” could be tomorrow, or it could be years from now. But no matter when it happens, the results will be devastating.
Clocking in at a magnitude of 9.0, that 18th-century quake is estimated to have caused shaking as far away as Manitoba, and led to a tsunami that scientists and legends say “sucked everybody and everything along the outer coast into the ocean”.
Now, we have alert systems in place to notify communities of impending waves, but as January 23rd demonstrated, those aren’t always reliable.
According to Bird, people living along the outer coast of Vancouver Island will have between 15 and 20 minutes to escape between an earthquake striking and a tsunami hitting.
Victoria, on the other hand, can expect a tsunami wave within 75 minutes.
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Rest easy this earthquake season. Don’t let the “Big One” catch you by surprise.