Bubbling discovery along Cascadia Fault gives insight into area prone to 9.0 killer quakes in West

The 600-mile Cascadia Fault that stretches from Canada's Vancouver Island to California is known for producing massive quakes every several hundred years that rate as high as magnitude 9.0.

SEATTLE – Scientists have discovered something unusual on the seafloor miles off the Oregon coast to better help them understand potent earthquake zones.

The findings happened along the Cascadia Subduction Zone – a fault line stretching 600 miles from Canada's Vancouver Island to California. The fault is known for producing massive quakes every several hundred years that rate as high as magnitude 9.0. 

The last major quake to strike the fault was on Jan. 27, 1700, and scientists determined entire forests died across hundreds of miles when the coasts of what are today Washington, Oregon and northern California suddenly dropped 4–6 feet, flooding the coastline with seawater amid an incredible tsunami.


Recently, researchers at the University of Washington found warm liquid bubbling up from the seafloor about 50 miles from Newport, Oregon.  Observations suggest the spring is sourced from water 2.5 miles beneath the seafloor at the plate boundary, regulating stress on the offshore fault.

Scientists say the discovery gives them a better idea of how tectonic plates lock into place between large earthquakes.

"They're like messengers from the deep," Evan Solomon, UW associate professor of oceanography, told FOX Weather. "They're providing us a pretty well intact and pristine sample of what the fluids are like in the plate boundary at these depths."


Solomon says the discovery doesn't forebode an imminent quake nor change the current risk of a quake – which is about a 15% chance a massive quake could strike along the fault within the next 50 years.

Minutes to react before the tsunami arrives from 9.0 quake

The Pacific Coast lies just 100 miles from the subduction zone, and experts warn it could have similar destructive impacts as the 9.0 quake to strike off the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011.

Geologist Scott Cameron says the area would feel a quick impact from the earthquake.

"As soon as the shaking stops, we (along the coast) have anywhere from about 15–30 minutes to get to high ground before the first tsunami waves will hit," Cameron said. "The key is to communicate what we do know, right now."

UW researchers say this discovery will hopefully improve earthquake forecasting down the line.

"This new finding provides new information for our models for how subduction zones work, and those models are being improved all the time -- eventually can potentially be used for forecasting of earthquakes," Solomon said.