A surprised Jim Boles, professor emeritus of earth science at the University of California in Santa Barbara, found formations at the Newport-Inglewood fault, known to have been responsible for one of the most destructive earthquakes yet in Southern California.
Boles, a petroleum geology and geochemistry researcher, visited the oil field at the Santa Fe Springs three years ago to take examine temperatures and why they were so hot underground.
Boles made his discovery about the formations at Newport-Inglewood when he took samples from other nearby areas. A high-level natural helium leak revealed that the fault runs deeper than what was previously thought.
According to Boles, the Newport-Inglewood fault runs all the way through to the Earth's mantle. He says that the fault turns out to be deeper than what was reported in previous studies.
The fault runs through Culver City to Baldwin Hills, Long Beach and Huntington Beach, as it spans 46 miles and extends offshore. This same fault was responsible for the 1933 earthquake in Long Beach, where 120 people died and $50 million worth of properties were damaged.
A greater risk of an earthquake does not necessarily follow the helium leak, seismic experts say. They emphasize more that there is much more to know about the deepest sections of the fault.
Ken Hudnut from the U.S. Geological Survey recognizes this as "one step closer to refining our understanding of the deep structure of the fault." Hudnut was not nvolved in the study.
"We all live here, in Los Angeles County, right on top of a whole bunch of active faults, and we're still stuck with inferring what the deep structure is. We don't have clear images," said Hudnut.
Boles analyzed 24 gas samples in oil wells along Newport-Inglewood. In hot spots like Yellowstone, magma allows helium to escape to the surface of the Earth. Along the fault, sections of the Earth's crust are being squeezed together, and it should make it difficult for helium to pass through.
"A lot of science is done by accident, but what you have to do is recognize, 'Hey, there's something important here that's come out of this,'" Boles said.