PSN-L Email List Message
Subject: Fw: A Sun story from Jim ODonnell
From: "Larry Cochrane" lcochrane@..............
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 2004 00:18:49 -0700
> Jim ODonnell (jimo17@......... thought you might be interested in this
> Las Vegas Sun (http://www.lasvegassun.com/) story:
> Message from sender:
> It is a shaky business but some has to do it!
> Valley's ground could make quakes worse
> By Beth Slovic
> LAS VEGAS SUN
> The ground in the Las Vegas Valley could increase the power of an
earthquake should the "big one" every hit, according to a new study of
seismic activity in Southern Nevada.
> A team of researchers spent two years studying eight known faults in the
valley and found that a major earthquake would leave significant damage
here, although scientists said such a quake was unlikely in the near future.
> The study, conducted by a group of researchers from UNLV, University of
Nevada, Reno, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, is
is the first major study of the faults in the valley in more than a decade
and showed how the ground would react in an earthquake, a key factor in what
kind of damage an earthquake would do.
> The research found that the ground is less stable than previously thought
and more prone to shaking in the event of an earthquake, particularly in the
northeast part of the valley.
> The ground could also amplify the magnitude of an earthquake here, even
one that registers at a lower number on the Richter scale outside the
> "Basins (like the Las Vegas Valley) shake by factors of 10 when an
earthquake passes through them," said Jim O'Donnell, a geophysicist and a
member of the Nevada Earthquake Safety Council who has monitored the data
collected from the study. "A magnitude 5 earthquake elsewhere would be like
a 6 here."
> Cathy Snelson, a University of Nevada Las Vegas seismologist who led a
portion of the two-year study, said that while Nevada is among the most
seismically active states in the nation, the valley doesn't see many
> Snelson said a "major event" is not likely and said while there's no
anecdotal evidence of such a quake in the last 100 years. But she said
there's "a lot of potential here for damage."
> Scientists are not very good at predicting earthquakes, O'Donnell said.
> "We may not have one tomorrow, but we could have one at anytime,"
> Snelson noted the last noticeable earthquake in the valley was a 3.5
magnitude earthquake in 2001, which was centered on the west side. She
called it small, but because of the ground it was felt across the valley.
> Of the eight known faults in the valley, one runs directly under the Strip
at its southern edge, which could cause a great deal of structural damage to
buildings and casualties if the earthquake hit at least 5.9 on the Richter
scale, O'Donnell said.
> "There will be a lot of shaking going on on the Strip if the focal point
of the earthquake is near those faults running under it," he said. "We're
not in a high seismic area, but were are at high risk for damage; we have
the potential for magnitude 6 or 7 earthquake that could look like a 7 or
> For the first time since 1992, when the Energy Department removed several
instruments from the valley that were used to monitor explosions at the
Nevada Test Site, seismographs were used to monitor movement in the earth's
crust in the valley.
> That's an important achievement in a fast-growing city where new buildings
are being built every day, said O'Donnell.
> A 2001 estimate using software from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency revealed that a 6.9 magnitude earthquake here could cause $11 billion
in economic losses and thousands of deaths.
> That, in part, is because the Las Vegas Valley's geological structure acts
like a bowl of jelly, Snelson said.
> Even a "short and sweet" earthquake here could send strong ripples through
the sediment that sits inside the bowl, shaking the Las Vegas Valley at
varying degrees of severity depending on the earth's firmness at the
different locations, Snelson said.
> In August 2003, Snelson and several of her university colleagues set off a
series of underground explosions designed to mimic seismic activity. The
experiment was designed to help geologists map the subsurface of the valley.
> After several months analyzing the data her team collected, Snelson's
group determined that the types of rocks in some parts of the valley are
less stable and would be more prone to shaking in the event of an
> As a result, the scientists determined that the northeastern portion of
the valley would feel the effects of an earthquake more intensely than the
southwestern area would. But the likelihood of a major earthquake in the
valley is low, she added.
> In explaining why an earthquake isn't likely, Wanda Taylor, a UNLV
geologist with the project, said the interval between earthquakes is
typically thousands of years.
> Though it would be possible to determine when earthquakes last shook the
various known fault lines in the Valley, geologists here have not had the
funding to do that yet, Taylor said.
> But using something called fault scrapes on some of the fault lines Taylor
estimated that the most recent earthquakes happened recently enough that
they likely would not re-occur in the near future.
> Single-family homes with wood frames would be less vulnerable to
earthquakes than large steel structures like hotels along the Strip, Snelson
> Nonetheless, residents should prepare their families for an earthquake
emergency, she said.
> Helping Las Vegas and its public officials better prepare for a potential
earthquake is one goal of the scientists' work.
> Currently, only 17 seismographs monitor seismic activity across the
valley. For geologists to better predict when an earthquake may occur, they
need more equipment Snelson said.
> Nevada is the third most seismically active state, after Alaska and
California, Snelson said. Most Silver State earthquakes have happened in the
northern part of Nevada, but the potential for large-scale damage exists in
the south, where more people live, she said.
> Ron Lynn, Clark County's Building Services director, said new buildings in
Las Vegas follow the International Building Code for the year 2000, and he
said the building standards included earthquake regulations that were fairly
> Gathering new information on earthquakes is key to setting better building
code standards, he said.
> "This valley has been under-analyzed," said Lynn, who is also the chairman
of the Nevada Earthquake Safety Council, referring to the area's seismic
history. "We are only now starting to get information."
> Rather than worry about earthquakes, however, people should prepare,
> "People in California live with this all their lives," she said. "They
don't stop living, nor should we."
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> Contents copyright 2004 Las Vegas Sun, Inc.
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