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Huge Helium Leak Balloons Earthquake Fears in Los Angeles

If the oarfish, purple giant sea slugs, dolphins and tuna crabs washing up dead on the shores of southern California didn’t scare you, maybe this will. Geologists monitoring a portion of the Newport-Inglewood Fault Zone in the Los Angeles Basin have found unusual leaks of helium-3 (3He), a sign that the fault is much deeper than they previously thought. How deep? Deep enough to produce a magnitude-8 earthquake. Are you scared yet?

UC Santa Barbara geologist Jim Boles was sampling gas from two dozen oil wells between Los Angeles and Newport Beach, a 30 mile stretch. He found that the deepest wells, over one-third of those he analyzed, showed the presence of helium-3 and carbon dioxide (CO2) which carries the helium-3. This combination of gases indicates that the fault reaches deep into the Earth’s crust to the mantle. It also shows that the Newport-Inglewood fault is in a spot where two tectonic plates collide.

Jim Boles points to the location of the Newport-Inglewood fault

Jim Boles points to the location of the Newport-Inglewood fault

According to Boles’ report in the current edition of “Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems,” these discoveries are surprising because the Newport-Inglewood fault is over 40 miles west of the plate boundary of the San Andreas Fault System and previous studies indicated that it was not deep enough to be a high-risk fault. As a result, Boles includes this warning:

This paper shows that the mantle is leaking more at the Newport-Inglewood fault zone than at the San Andreas Fault, which is a new discovery.

You read that right … leaking more than the San Andreas Fault. Based on that, the U.S. Geological Survey has increased the chance of magnitude-8 earthquake occurring in California in the next 30 years from 4.7 percent to 7 percent.

What’s worse, the southern portion of the San Andreas Fault from central California to the Mexican border hasn’t had a major quake in over 300 years and is overdue. This new discovery of the depth of the Newport-Inglewood fault increases the possibility of two or more faults quaking at once, magnifying the seismic energy and destruction.

NOW are you scared?

Why are you scared? It's just helium

Why are you scared? It’s just helium

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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