Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Shallow Quake Swarm at Joshua Tree East Of Palm Springs

There is absolutely nothing, and no information on this on the web, so I thought I might bring it into the light for scrutiny. There is a continuing quake swarm occurring in Joshua Tree National Park, about 35 miles East of Palm Springs, CA that is beginning to look quite intriguing. The range of depth is from 8km to less than 1km, and about 2 quakes are occurring every hour. The strongest quakes were two mag 3.5 tremblors that were lightly felt in Palm Springs and surrounding towns.

The area is definitely part of the Rio Grande rift, a series of spreading faults that resemble "stretch marks" on the Western USA's topography. This rift, much like the African Rift Valley (although nowhere near as active volcanically) is home to a great many volcanic features. This particular area is parallel to the San Andreas fault line, the most active fault line in the USA.

The swarm is concentrated below an ancient volcanic mountain, and has been very consistent in its locations. All quakes are occurring within a mile of each other. This does look a bit like a deep magma dike intrusion, but it is definitely still way to soon to tell what is going on. Dike intrusions into the crust happen all the time, and most times they never result in any surface volcanic activity.

A Google Earth Snapshot with USGS real-time quake overlay showing the location and number of quakes in the swarm. The largest quake occurred yesterday and was a mag. 3.5, with a matching 3.5 quake occurring today (4/4/2012).

While this probably is a magma intrusion into the crust, there are other possibilities such as these being a precursor (foreshock) to a larger quake in the future, or a very small tectonic slippage. In any case, this swarm is intriguing not just because of its location, but because of the number of quakes occurring within the area. As this is occurring along the San Andreas fault however, it is very hard to tell whether or not this is purely tectonic, or if there is an intrusion taking place.

As this is, to my knowledge, the only article about these quakes so far, I will withhold further speculation about what is going on here until (or if) the USGS comments on the quakes, or if they become newsworthy. It is simply impossible to tell from available data whether or not these events will be significant, or insignificant, but as always I will keep an eye on these interesting occurrences, and post updates if anything changes. For now, keep your eyes peeled East of Palm Springs (and I would avoid going spelunking out there any time soon!).

*****UPDATE 4/9/12*****

The quake swarm is continuing with now more than 50 quakes striking the region. The swarm is very much beginning to look like a dike intrusion, at least on the Google Earth USGS plugin. It is quite similar to the precursors at El Hierro, deep quakes, numerous, and rising in depth. Still, nobody is reporting on this, so I am at the mercy of my own assumptions, which I will keep quiet for now, but this is definitely an area to keep an eye on for a while, at least until USGS takes notice. If anything further develops, I will update this post again.

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