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The slow slip and tremor events in Cascadia are being studied by Stanford geophysics Professor Paul Segall. Segall's group uses computational models of the region to determine whether the cumulative effects of many small events can trigger a major earthquake. "You have these small events every 15 months or so, and a magnitude 9 earthquake every 500 years.
We need to known whether you want to raise an alert every time one of these small events happens," Segall said. "We're doing sophisticated numerical calculations to simulate these slow events and see whether they do relate to big earthquakes over time. What our calculations have shown is that ultimately these slow events do evolve into the ultimate fast event, and it does this on a pretty short time scale
Unfortunately, so far Segall's group has not seen any obvious differences in the numerical simulations between the average slow slip event and those that directly precede a big earthquake. The work is still young, and Segall noted that the model needs refinement to better match actual observations and to possibly identify the signature of the event that triggers a large earthquake. "We're not so confident in our model that public policy should be based on the output of our calculations, but we're working in that direction," Segall said.