Ask Joe: Can wet winters trigger earthquakes?


From the Ask Joe file, I received a question from a viewer about the recent series of earthquakes we had up near Truckee.

Diana Borges wrote in to ask if it's possible that all the water settling into our underground aquifer could cause little earthquakes.

Here's what I found out:

There was a series of small quakes in late June in the Truckee area. Our last report stated there had been 28 quakes, and the largest one measured 3.9.

Could they be connected to our wet winter?

I checked with Graham Kent up at the UNR Seismology Lab. He says it's not likely but it is possible, especially if you have an empty lake that is suddenly filled to capacity. All that water can put added pressure on dams, and that change in pressure could, theoretically, transmit different kinds of energy and possibly impact some underground earthquake faults.

Kent says seismologists are still learning about this concept. They call it triggering. They're hoping to do some underwater studies at places like Honey Lake or Independence Lake up by Truckee.

So it's not out of the question, but there's not enough information to say for sure at this point. Graham Kent says he'd call it a definite, lower case "maybe." When it comes to searching for answers in the field of seismology, sometimes that is the best we can get.

In the meantime, let hope that's the last of those quakes for a while!

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