Researchers at the University of Ottawa and Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington have published an article exploring the direct link between human caused groundwater depletion and the uplift of California’s Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges, which may increase the number of earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault.

Pascal Audet of the University of Ottawa’s department of earth sciences modelled the upward motion of the Earth’s crust caused by groundwater removal in order to match the pattern of uplift measured by GPS. The model was used to monitor how land motions alter stress conditions on the fault.

The article explains how human activity has not only affected the Earth’s outer fluid layers—such as atmosphere and oceans—but how it has also lead to deformation of the Earth’s crust. Such deformations are likely to become more prevalent as the changing climate forces higher agricultural, urban, and environmental groundwater use.

“In Canada, the strong landmass of the Canadian Shield may prevent large land motion and shield us, in essence, from associated effects such as earthquakes,” Audet said in a University of Ottawa release. “However, in light of this research, increased monitoring and modelling of land motion in areas of large-scale industrial activity may be called for.”

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