Experts at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA are convinced that there is a 99 percent chance for a 5.0 magnitude earthquake to hit the Los Angeles area in the near future.
This development comes amidst a gradual increase of small quakes all throughout California in the past few weeks. While some scientists believe the mini earthquakes are leading to something big, others are not as worried. More recently, an increase of smaller activity was reported in northern California's Calaveras fault, which connects to the Hayward fault.
"Every small swarm [of earthquakes] could be a foreshock. We think it's a very small chance given the history of the fault," Ole Kaven, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said to Wired. "But there's no telling when and where exactly that type of [big] event could happen."
The expert also told the publication that the swarm will only last another two weeks before disappearing. Previously, the longest lasting swarm to date lasted 42 days. Some scientists have proposed the theory that smaller quakes are actually lowering the possibility of a "Big One" due to gradually dissipating energy along the fault lines in small amounts. Others are skeptical.
Based an ongoing study in Southern California, NASA's JPL geophysicist Dr. Andrea Donnellan believes that not all the energy has been sufficiently dissipated by smaller quakes.
"When the La Habra earthquake happened, it was relieving some of that stress, and it actually shook some of the upper sediments in the LA basin and moved those a little bit more," Donnellan explained to CBS. "There's enough energy stored to produce about a magnitude 6.1 to 6.3 earthquake."
Donnellan and her colleagues at NASA used GPS and radar to measure a 60-mile radius around the Los Angeles area. The team believes that there is a 99 percent chance that Los Angeles will be hit with a magnitude 5.0 earthquake or greater in the next three years.
In contrast, seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey have lowered that possibility to just 85 percent. Even so, both parties agree that preparing for a large earthquake is still an important step toward safety.
Previously, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake killed 63 people and injured another 3,757 when it struck Northern California's Bay Area. In the more than 25 years since the event occurred, the city of San Francisco has spent an estimated $30 billion dollars on preparing its infrastructure for the next major quake.
A more recent magnitude 6.0 quake in the Napa Valley wine country caused hundreds of millions in property damage in 2014. Though more than 200 people were injured, no fatalities were reported.