The geomorphological activity in California

California covers a vast area and much of this land has been created as a result of its position in relation to a number of plate boundaries. Over the centuries, these plates have moved in several directions alongside and towards each other, which resulted in the land being uplifted as well as magma being released in the form of volcanoes.

San Francisco burning in 1906

Geomorphology is the study of the land features in an area and California has an array of huge features that have been produced by a number of different forces. However, it is the actions of these plates lying beneath the earth’s surface that have the biggest influence on the land features that are found in the region today.

In fact the future movements of these plates is being closely monitored as the repercussions of their activities could pose a serious threat to human safety. Already there have been incidents over the last 150 years that has caused considerable damage and has led to the loss of human life.

The biggest concern relates to The San Andreas fault. This marks the boundary where the Pacific Plate runs alongside the North American Plate, with it continuing for 1200 km up the length of California. The plates are moving in opposite directions and the problems occur where friction builds up and the sudden release of pressure results in an earthquake.

This was certainly the case in 1906 in San Francisco when an earthquake, measured at 7.9 on the “Richter scale”, hit the city, destroying 80% of the buildings and killing over 3000 people. The earthquake triggered fires in the city and this resulted in much of the destruction that was experienced.

The ten years before this event had seen minor earthquakes occurring in the region, and it does appear that the large earthquakes occur after a seasonal pattern of smaller movements. Over 300,000 people had to be rehoused and the new constructed buildings were designed in a manner to try and withstand any future earth movements.

1994 damage to the Freeways

Despite California’s attempt to try and take earthquakes into consideration when building new structures, this cannot stop the most powerful of earthquakes. This was the case in 1994 with the Northridge earthquake in the Los Angeles’ neighborhood of Reseda, which measured 6.7 on the “Richter scale”.

The earthquake is one of the costliest natural disasters in American history with damage estimated between 13-50 billion US dollars. Fifty seven people lost their lives with over 8,700 people being injured. There was considerable damage to buildings as the epicenter was under Los Angeles.

The road network was also greatly affected. The Santa Monica Freeway Interstate was then the busiest road in the United States and it had to be closed for three months. The congestion to surrounding roads meant that road workers worked in 3 shifts of eight hours every day in order to get the freeway back into operation.

California adopts every technological advancement in building construction to insure that the damage caused by the next earthquake will be minimal.

But can anyone guarantee that man can control these massive tremors?

It is certain that there will be future earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault is fractured and this has produced three separate areas which makes it difficult for seismologists to predict where and when the next earthquake will occur. It is remarkable that despite this threat, it appears to have had little effect on people’s desire to live in the State.