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By Mark Duell
Last updated at 5:08 PM on 15th March 2011
The U.S. West Coast could be the next area shaken by a big earthquake, experts warned today.
The earthquakes last Friday in Japan, last month in New Zealand and last year in Chile all happened along the ‘Ring of Fire’ that encircles much of the Pacific Ocean.
Linked: Recent earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand and Chile all happened along the chain of large faults called 'Ring of Fire' that encircles much of the Pacific
Experts can't be certain where or when the next earthquake will be but the West Coast risk has increased because it is in the same volatile geological system.
‘The Pacific Northwest - what we call the Cascadia Subduction Zone - has the same kind of characteristics as the fault beneath Japan,’ seismologist James Gaherty told CBS.
The Ring of Fire is a chain of large faults associated with the Pacific plate’s interaction with surrounding plates, which can produce earthquakes and volcanoes.
California risk: The San Andreas and Cascadia are on the fourth 'corner' of the Ring of Fire 'square', which has already seen three earthquakes in 2010 and 2011
‘If you think of the Pacific plate as a square, we have had a major earthquake in the Northwestern side of that square (in Japan),’ author Simon Winchester told MSNBC.
‘On February 22 we had Christchurch in New Zealand in the Southwest of the square. Last year we had a major earthquake in Chile in the Southeast of that square.
‘The fourth leg of the square, the fourth side, is where the San Andreas and the Cascadia forms. That hasn't ruptured - if either (does) there could be major problems.’
The last time California’s San Andreas Fault ruptured was in 1906, when the area of San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake and fires.
Previous fault: California's San Andreas Fault last ruptured in 1906 when San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake and subsequent fires
Christchurch in New Zealand was rocked last month by a 6.3 quake that killed 166 people, and around 550 people died after Chile was hit in February 2010 by an 8.8.
Friday’s 8.9 earthquake was the highest ever recorded in Japan, compared to the 8.3 Great Kanto Earthquake in Tokyo in 1923, which killed more than 140,000 people.
Japan was better-prepared for last week’s earthquake thanks to strict urban building quakes, but there are always risks with the unpredictable nature of a quake’s location.
A big reason for Haiti’s death toll of 300,000 from the January 2010 quake - outside of the Ring of Fire - was the poor conditions and building codes, reported CBS.
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