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Predicting earthquakes is impossible, but that hasn't stopped scientists from trying

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Sunday, March 30, 2014, 9:02 PM -

The latest earthquakes to strike California have stirred up fears that monster quake could be coming. 

A Magnitude-5.1 quake rattled the Los Angeles area Friday. It was followed by a whopping 100 aftershocks, and another magnitude-4.1 quake on Saturday. 

So, can seismologists predict if or when a "Big One" will hit the area?


SEE ALSO: What happens if an earthquake hits Vancouver?


"Five per cent of California earthquakes are followed by something larger in three days," USGS Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones. 

The Puente Hills thrust fault, which brought Friday night's magnitude-5.1 quake centred in La Habra and well over 100 aftershocks by Sunday, stretches from northern Orange County under downtown Los Angeles into Hollywood -- a heavily populated swath of the Los Angeles area. 

It was one of the strongest in California since the devastating 1994 Northridge quake, 20 years ago. That quake registered 6.7 on the Richter scale, killing more than 50 people and causing an estimated $42 billion in damage. 

CNN meteorologist Alexandra Steele says the chance for a catastrophe like Northridge exists anywhere a fault line is present.


INCREASED RISK: Earthquakes in Vancouver amplified by Georgia Basin, study finds


"Our planet's seemingly stable surface is actually constantly moving and it's composed of enormous rock that slowly moving underneath our feet," she said. "And when they rub and touch and crash against each other or crack then there this massive release of energy and that's an earthquake." 

And while scientists still can't predict the "Big One", that hasn't stopped some from imagining the doomsday scenario. 

The USGS said recently California has a 46 percent chance of a magnitude 7.5 or larger in the next 30 years - and that it would likely hit Southern California. 


SEE ALSO: Earthquake rattles Canada's Far North


A recent virtual earthquakes study by Stanford University tried to envision what would happen if the big one did hit. 

"The waves travel through that corridor through Los Angeles and are essentially guided into the sedimentary basin that underlies Los Angeles," said professor Greg Beroza. "Once they're in that basin, they reverberate, they get amplified and they cause stronger shaking than what would otherwise occur." 

A scale of disaster that hopefully won't become a reality anytime soon.

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