A sleepy earthquake fault near Las Vegas may wake up someday, according to a report published in the Geological Society of America Bulletin.
The Stateline Fault runs within 30 miles of Las Vegas and the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, north of Vegas. It also runs right through backyards in the fast-growing community of Pahrump, Nevada, to the west.
"Big faults, in between earthquakes, are generally very quiet," Discovery News quoted Caltech geophysicist Brian Wernicke, as saying. The researchers said that the Stateline Fault could move more than previously reported.
He corroborated this with evidence that some debris from a small volcano along the fault had been shifted more than 20 miles away from the volcano over the last 13 million years, which suggested that the real rate of lateral "strike-slip" movement on the Stateline Fault could be twice the earlier estimates.
"The strike-slip story is just emerging," Wernicke said. Geophysicist Terry Pavlis, from the University of Texas in El Paso, said: "Ninety-nine percent of the population of Pahrump has no idea that they're right on top of the fault. This is close enough (to Vegas) that you'd get a pretty good shaking if this thing were to go."
The report also refers to the historic measurements of slip along the Stateline Fault, which suggest that the fault was slipping laterally at a gentle rate of a millimetre or so per year.
According to the researchers, more data on the current movements along the faults are possible because of a recently installed GPS survey system for the Yucca Mountain Project.
However, funding for analysing data form the GPS system was recently cut by the Department of Energy, revealed Wernicke.