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July 4th earthquake won't delay the Big One. And it might have worsened quake strain

Rong-Gong Lin Ii, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

LOS ANGELES -- Does a good-size earthquake help relieve pent-up seismic stress? Does that postpone the day of reckoning when the Big One finally arrives?

That was the question some in California were asking hopefully in the wake of the July 4 magnitude 6.4 earthquake that rattled the region.

You won't like this answer.

It's wishful thinking to imagine that, as a rule, earthquakes "relieve" seismic stress, said seismologist Lucy Jones.

In fact, generally speaking, earthquakes actually increase the risk of future quakes.

Here is a primer on earthquakes and seismic stress largely based on past interviews with Jones and other scientists:

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Q: Does an earthquake immediately relieve seismic stress, forestalling a future big quake?

A: No.

Think about what generally happens after a decent earthquake. Aftershocks. Lots and lots of aftershocks. It's going on right now in the area around the Fourth of July magnitude 6.4 earthquake in the Mojave Desert, close to Ridgecrest, a town of 29,000 notable for being a pit stop for Mammoth-bound skiers from L.A.

Q: But couldn't relieving seismic stress in one part of the state restart the earthquake clock elsewhere, so to speak?

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