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Southern California is a lot shakier than ever before realized. According to a new study, a tiny earthquake rumbles through the southern portion of the Golden State every 3 minutes.
These temblors won't knock down walls or send palm trees swaying. In fact, they're too small for even typical seismic instruments to regularly detect. But their discovery reveals seismic activity that scientists couldn't previously detect. Understanding the full pattern of activity should help seismologists understand how larger earthquakes get started and how quakes can trigger one another.
Whales - Area - California - Months
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Humanity is naturally most interested in large, damaging earthquakes, Ross told Live Science, the kind that take lives and bring cities to a standstill. But those quakes don't happen on the same time scale as human lifetimes. On a single fault, one big quake might occur every century, or even every thousand years.
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Smaller quakes are a lot more frequent. For each drop in unit of magnitude, there are 10 times more quakes, Ross said — so for every magnitude 7.0 temblor, for example, there are 10 magnitude 6.0 quakes, 100 magnitude 5.0 quakes and so on.
Even seismometers don't easily differentiate the smallest of these shakes from the background noise of the environment, Ross said. The standard catalog of Southern California quakes put out by Caltech and the U.S. Geological Survey catches everything of magnitude 1.7 and above, he said.
Ross - Team - Way - Quakes - Magnitude
Now, Ross and his team have found a way to tease out quakes as small as magnitude 0.3 from that same data. The trick, Ross said, is that two quakes with similar epicenters will show almost the same pattern of shaking on a seismogram, even if one is much larger than the other. The researchers used known earthquakes as...
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