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When is the Big One coming to the Bay?

Flickr User 1Flatworld
Creative Commons, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / resized
San Francisco from Oakland

Hey Area is where we find answers to questions you ask. Listener Rory Plewman wanted to know when the next big earthquake is going to hit the Bay Area.

The UC Berkeley stadium is directly on top of the Hayward Fault, which runs under the East Bay. The fault line itself isn’t visible, but the damage it’s causing is. The ground under the stadium is constantly shifting along the fault line, creating cracks in the stadium stairway.

Most of the time, this damage happens slowly. But sometimes, the fault shifts suddenly--an earthquake. Researchers think the Hayward Fault is where the next big earthquake in the Bay Area will happen. But they’re not sure when.

“We know California has big earthquakes, and we know they happen sometimes,” says Peggy Hellweg, a seismologist at the UC Berkeley Seismological Lab.

Hellweg says researchers have gotten a lot better at understanding how earthquakes work. They study fault lines and the history of past earthquakes, using that data to make guesses about future seismic activity. Researchers are also working on an early warning system to alert people the moment a big one hits. But there’s still not enough data to predict an earthquake before it happens.

“It only says that if you and I are around for the next thirty years, there’s a good chance we’ll experience a big earthquake,” Hellweg says. “So the answer is it could be tomorrow. It could be today.”

Hellweg hopes the Bay Area will be ready.