Seismic hum off Island’s coast could help predict next major earthquake

Seismic hum off Island's coast could help predict next major earthquake

WATCH: The last destructive earthquake to strike off of Vancouver Island occurred in the 1700s, but experts say new research may be able to predict when the next “big one” will hit. Ceilidh Millar reports. 

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Alaska last November is an example of what can happen during a major earthquake.

The earthquake happened in a seismic area similar to the one Vancouver Island is located on.

“We don’t know when it’s going to happen but we know that it will happen in the future,” said seismologist John Cassidy.

Southwestern B.C. was the most seismically active region in Canada in 2018.

Nine hundred and nine earthquakes occurred at different depths and intensities were recorded off the coast of Vancouver Island throughout the year.

New research out of the United States may be able to predict the next earthquake by listening to a strange hum off the coast of the Island.

The data involves studying a strange seismic hum off the Island that could be related to an increased risk of a major quake.

The Cascadia subduction zone is the boundary between two tectonic plates that runs from northern California to Vancouver Island.

The area spans nearly 1,000 kilometres of coastline.

“It’s a region where an ocean plate offshore is being pushed towards North America,” Cassidy explained. “There is a back-and-forth motion that takes place every 14 or 15 months.”

Cassidy says the Juan de Fuca Plate is descending or subducting beneath the North American Plate at roughly four centimetres a year.

According to the study, the “slow slip” continuously broadcasts a low-amplitude signal.

Using artificial intelligence, researchers hope to track the seismic vibrations which could be an indicator of when a fault is about to rupture.

“This machine technology is particularly important because it can provide real-time data,” Cassidy said.

It’s similar machine technology that’s being developed right here at home at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in North Saanich.

“It’s a particular type of artificial intelligence that we can train to recognize seismic signals,” said research scientist Honn Kao who is leading the project.

“Ultimately we hope that our study will eventually generate the knowledge that we need in order for us to mitigate all the seismic hazards and save lives.”

Ceilidh MillarCeilidh Millar

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