New Year’s Earthquake Swarm Garners National Media Attention
By Chris Furguson
Thanks to social media, a swarm of more than 200 earthquakes that hit the town of Brawley, California on New Year’s Eve made national headlines for the small rural community.
Beginning at 3:30 am with a small 1.1 quake, the area was rattled by more than 200 quakes over New Year’s weekend. Fortunately, none were stronger than 3.9 on the magnitude scale, which causes little property damage but can still be felt by people.
A similar swarm took place in August 2012 that included a 5.4 quake that did significant damage to several structures, including the recently repaired Palmer Auditorium.
While no significant property damage was reported during the New Year’s swarm, some nerves were rattled as the year came to an end, according to several messages on social media websites. According to mayor Sam Couchman, Brawley’s pets were the most affected by the quakes and subsequent New Year’s celebrations and weather.
“With the quakes, the thunder and lightning, it felt like 2016 didn’t want to go away quietly,” laughed Martha Reyes, a resident of the city’s east side, at a local restaurant the following morning.
Dr. Lucy Jones, a seismologist (earthquake researcher) with Cal-Tech, explained over Twitter that swarms are common in the area, due to it’s proximity to both the San Andreas and Imperial faults in what is called the “Brawley Seismic Zone.”
“Today’s quakes in Imperial Valley are more than 20 ml south of San Andreas; won’t change probability of quake on that fault,” tweeted Jones, who spent more than 30 years with the United States Geological Survey studying and trying to predict earthquakes in Southern California.
Clusters are common in the area, and other seismologists weren’t too concerned about the Brawley quakes triggering one along the major San Andreas fault. Before and aftershocks need to be within a mile of the fault to trigger such warnings from seismologists.
News of the clusters made their way through the Los Angeles Times and other Southern California media outlets before being picked up by the Cable News Network (CNN) and being further distributed throughout the nation.
In response to a tweet about the calm demeanor that most geologists were having about the swarm, Dr. Jones replied that “nobody cared about these common swarms until the Internet let everyone know they were happening.”
Earthquakes are usually caused by shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates along various fault lines. It is these fault lines and the easy access to heat from the earth’s mantle layer that provide the area’s abundant source of geothermal power.