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U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 152-99
Online Version 1.0

UNDERSTANDING EARTHQUAKE HAZARDS IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY REGION

Major Quake Likely to Strike Between 2000 and 2030

On the basis of research conducted since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other scientists conclude that there is a 70% probability of at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater quake, capable of causing widespread damage, striking the San Francisco Bay region before 2030. Major quakes may occur in any part of this rapidly growing region. This emphasizes the urgency for all communities in the Bay region to continue preparing for earthquakes.

 

 

Just before dawn, residents of a bayside urban area, thought to be well prepared for earthquakes, were jolted from their beds by a magnitude 6.9 quake. This 1995 temblor killed more than 6,000 people and caused $100 billion in damage. The quake struck Kobe, Japan, but similar losses could have occurred in the San Francisco Bay region in 1989 had the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake been centered in an urbanized area.

Damaging earthquakes are inevitable in the Bay region, but taking actions based on the odds of future quakes will help save lives and protect property. Following the Loma Prieta quake, the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities reassessed the likelihood of large quakes striking the Bay region and issued a report in 1990.

Since then, scientists have gained new insights into Bay region earthquakes, providing a better basis for determining quake odds. In 1997, the USGS working group, now known as WG99, was expanded to include more than 100 scientists from Federal and California State governments, consulting firms, industry, and universities.

Earthquake probabilities are based on balancing the continual motions of the plates that make up the Earth's outer shell with the slip on faults, which occurs primarily during earthquakes. To determine Bay region earthquake probabilities, WG99 gathered new data, developed analytical tools, and debated a wide variety of interpretations about how future temblors may occur.

The threat of earthquakes extends across the entire San Francisco Bay region, and a major quake is likely before 2030. Knowing this will help people make informed decisions as they continue to prepare for future quakes. (more detailed version)

WG99 determined that there is a 70% chance (10%) of at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake striking the San Francisco Bay region between 2000 and 2030. This result is the most important outcome of WG99's work, because any major quake can cause damage throughout the region. This was dramatically demonstrated when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused severe damage in Oakland and San Francisco, more than 50 miles from the fault rupture. Although earthquakes can inflict damage at a considerable distance, shaking will be very intense near the fault rupture. Therefore, temblors located in urbanized areas of the region have the potential to cause much more damage than the 1989 quake.

In the Bay region's rapidly growing eastern valleys, four faults slice through Contra Costa, Alameda, Solano, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Napa Counties. WG99 calculated the odds of major quakes on these faults for the first time. They determined that there is a 30% chance of one or more magnitude 6.7 or greater quakes occurring somewhere on the Calaveras, Concord-Green Valley, Mount Diablo Thrust, and Greenville Faults before 2030.

Residents living near the Pacific coast in burgeoning San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties are sandwiched between the San Andreas and San Gregorio Faults. New data have allowed WG99 to calculate the first earthquake probabilities for the San Gregorio Fault and to better estimate probabilities for the San Andreas Fault. Combined, these two faults have a 25% chance of producing one or more magnitude 6.7 or greater quakes in these coastal areas before 2030.

When the 1990 USGS probability report was released, earthquake odds could only be estimated for the San Andreas Fault and the Hayward-Rodgers Creek Fault, although the danger posed by other faults was recognized. WG99 found that, of all the faults in the Bay region, these two and the Calaveras pose the greatest threat, because they have high quake odds and run through the region's urban core.

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URL of this page: https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/1999/fs152-99
Maintained by: Michael Diggles
Last modified: May 6, 2005 (mfd)