Large, deep earthquakes have shaken the central Puget Sound region several times in the last century, and nerves have been rattled even more often by less-powerful deep quakes. New University of Washington research suggests the magnitude of these temblors might depend on just where beneath the Earths surface they occur.
Events such as the 2001 Nisqually earthquake and large quakes in 1965 and 1949 happened in what is called the Wadati-Benioff zone, an area deep below the surface where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is sliding eastward beneath the North American plate. The two plates first meet on the ocean floor off the coast of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.
If it turns out that such earthquakes are confined to the uppermost part of the Juan de Fuca plate, in its crustal layer, that means the magnitude of such quakes probably is limited to about 7, said Kenneth Creager, a University of Washington Earth and space sciences professor. However, the plates crust is only about 3 miles thick, and the cold mantle layer that lies just beneath is much thicker, so a quake that occurs in both layers, in theory, could reach a magnitude of 8, he said.
Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
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