The magazine for Western Washington University

Shaken, but will it stir?

WWU geologist studies newly discovered quake fault

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An earthquake fault north of Bellingham, discovered only four years ago, has caught the attention of WWU Geology Professor Liz Schermer now that scientists know it rumbled three times in the past 7,500 years – and could start shaking again.

Schermer and graduate students are working with the U.S. Geological Survey to examine the Boulder Creek Fault, located in the Kendall area in northern Whatcom County. How long is it? How does it make the ground move when it ruptures?

In short, how much do we have to worry about it?

Discovered by the USGS in 2005, the fault might have produced temblors stronger than the ’94 Northridge quake in Southern California. A large quake on the Boulder Creek Fault, located about 25 miles east of Bellingham along the Mount Baker Highway, could have disastrous consequences in western Whatcom County and lower British Columbia.

Schermer, who received her Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also wonders whether the Boulder Creek Fault connects to another newly discovered fault beneath the coast of Whatcom County.

If so, that could make things even more interesting.

“If the Boulder Creek fault runs all the way across the county, it would be a larger, more extensive fault system that anyone had anticipated,” Schermer says.