Study: Groundwater pumping in drought has earthquake impact

Study: Groundwater pumping in drought has earthquake impact »Play Video
FILE - The San Andreas Fault is seen in this computer-generated NASA photo.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Could groundwater pumping amid the drought leave California shaking?

A new study from The Nature Journal hypothesizes that groundwater pumping is affecting earthquake activity along the San Andreas Fault.

“The San Andreas Fault is huge,” said California State University, Bakersfield geology professor Dirk Baron, “and we move a little bit of water, so it’s interesting to see there’s an actual effect on the fault.”

Baron pointed out this is a small effect over large tectonic forces.

“What this study claims is the surrounding mountains get lifted because that mass is missing,” said Baron.

He said that creates micro earthquakes.

“So, basically you’re removing mass and part of the land surface goes up,” said Baron. "So, the land moves against each other. So, to relieve those stresses, you have these small earthquakes.”

Baron said the findings of this study could actually be a good thing.

“From a hazard perspective you could actually say some of these small earthquakes actually relieve some of the stress on the fault,” said Baron, “so the big earthquake that's bound to happen eventually happens, it might be a little smaller.”

The study researchers pointed out earthquakes along the fault are going to happen regardless of human activity.

Seasonal variation in rain and snow also affects the number of earthquakes.