A massive crack has been discovered along the Pacific Northwest fault line, raising concerns about a potential catastrophic earthquake.
Scientists warn that a recently analyzed crack in the Pacific fault line may lead to a devastating earthquake impacting cities throughout the Northwest.
Fears Rise Over Pacific Fault Line Crack
Discovered 50 miles off the Oregon coast, the hole in the fault line, dubbed the “Cascadia Subduction Zone,” extends from northern California to Canada. First observed in 2015, a recent study by the University of Washington (UW) indicates that the hot liquid seeping from the hole serves as a tectonic lubricant. Named “Oasis of Pythias” after an ancient Greek oracle, the hot spring could contribute to a magnitude 9 earthquake in the Pacific Northwest if the lubricant is lost.
Seafloor Spring Unveils Tectonic Secret
The mineral-rich, low-salinity, high-temperature water spring originates from the seafloor, 1,000 meters below the surface off the Oregon coast. A robotic diver initially discovered the hole during a 2015 survey, when sonar images captured bubbles rising from the seafloor. Evan Solomon, a UW associate professor of oceanography, described the liquid spewing from the seafloor as a “fire hose,” an unprecedented observation.
Fluid Pressure Vital for Plate Movement
The leaking liquid was found to be 9 degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding seawater, coming directly from the Cascadian interplate, where temperatures range between 150 and 250 degrees Celsius. Loss of fluid from the interplate interface through slip faults increases friction between the oceanic and continental plates, which could lead to devastating earthquakes.
Cascadia Subduction Zone: A Ticking Time Bomb
The Cascadia subduction zone, where the Juan de Fuca oceanic plate is sliding under the North American continental tectonic plate, can generate the world’s largest earthquakes. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan, which killed around 20,000 people, exemplifies the potential destruction. Although Cascadia is quieter than other subduction zones, it is not completely inactive, with a magnitude nine event occurring in 1700.
The Oasis of Pythias: A Rare Glimpse into Seafloor Processes
Evan Solomon suggests that similar springs may exist nearby but are more challenging to detect from the ocean’s surface. The Oasis of Pythias offers valuable insight into seafloor processes and their chemistry, with the fluid originating from near the plate boundary and nearby faults regulating pressure and interplate slip behavior in the central Cascadia subduction zone, according to Deborah Kelley, a professor of oceanography and co-author of the study published in Science Advances.
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