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Environment & Science

'San Andreas': USGS expert Lucy Jones on things it gets wrong ... and right




Dwayne Johnson (left) and Carla Gugino star in
Dwayne Johnson (left) and Carla Gugino star in "San Andreas," a movie about a massive earthquake that strikes California. The movie opens May 29, 2015.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

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"San Andreas" rattles theaters starting Friday with what it says is the story of an earthquake so massive it destroys all of California. 

Well, not so fast, says U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones. She attended the film's premiere earlier this week and took to Twitter to offer a blow-by-blow critique of the summer disaster film.

She also spoke with AirTalk's Larry Mantle to elaborate on what she thinks the movie got hilariously wrong — and the things it got right.

1. Can the San Andreas fault cause a 9.6 earthquake?

No.

"They have a 7.1 in Nevada that triggers a 9.1 in Southern California that triggers a 9.6 in Northern California. What they’ve done is put us into a sort of different tectonic environment. Here in California on the San Andreas [fault], it’s a completely different type of fault. The biggest we can have is a 8.2."

2. How about giant tsunamis?

No. 

"The really big tsunamis — like we saw in Japan and Sumatra — only happen on a subduction zone. To create a tsunami, you need to move a large amount of water out of the way. You do that by having the fault under the ocean push up, and all the water that used to be there then has to go somewhere else. The San Andreas being on land and by moving sideways instead of vertically, it’s just not displacing any water."

3. Can one earthquake create a chain reaction of earthquakes?

Yes.

“It’s pattern we’ve seen before. If you remember, the 1992 Landers earthquake, 7.3 in Southern California, triggers a 5.7 a next day in Nevada. So it could easily go the other way. And the day of the 1906 earthquake that had devastated San Francisco, there was a magnitude 6 in Imperial County near the Mexican border and a magnitude 5 in Santa Monica Bay. So the idea that we have our big San Andreas earthquake here in Southern California, and we trigger a San Andreas event or perhaps a Hayward fault event in Northern California, that part is actually realistic."

4. Can an earthquake in Southern California be felt on the East Coast?

No.

“We don’t see them felt over that large of an area. The San Andreas earthquake in 1906 was felt in Nevada, and that’s as far east as it got. One interesting thing: There was a 7.5 in Missouri in 1811, 1812. ... The 7.5 in Missouri did move furniture in the White House and rang church bells in Boston.”

5. What about the advice in the film to “drop, hold, cover” during a quake?

“That part of [it is] actually very good. And that absolutely is the right thing to do. But [what] you need to worry about in an earthquake is things flying around the room. A table is really good protection for flying objects, and much better than a doorway. ..."

6. What about running away from an earthquake?

"Running during an earthquake is essentially impossible. One part of the movie, they are running off of the Hoover Dam. If you have shaking that can destroy the Hoover Dam, you are not running anywhere.”

You can check out Jones' live tweets from the film below. Will you be seeing "San Andreas" this weekend? Let us know in the comments below.

storify.com/GNAdv/twitter-welcomes-dr-lucy-jones-seismologist