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The two methods used to derive the maximum potential for a rupture of the entire fault found estimates between magnitude 6.7 and magnitude 7.3 to 7.4 quakes, according to the study.

The analysis revealed that eruption of the offshore segment of the system can produce an estimated 7.3-magnitude quake. "Even if you have a high 5- or low 6-magnitude natural disaster, it can still have a major impact on those regions which are some of the most densely populated in California".

The re-identified fault, which includes the Newport-Inglewood and Rose Canyon lines, runs between Los Angeles and San Diego could set off a 7.4 magnitude quake, according to a report issued Tuesday in the Journal of Geophysical Research by scientists from UC San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

This allowed them to generate a "nested survey" of the region, accounting for different resolution scales and depth penetration.

The land on either side of the fault has been pushing against the other at a rate of more than 1 inch a year since 1857, the researchers said, accumulating energy that will be suddenly released in a major natural disaster, when the land along the fault would move by many feet, The Times reported. The new research shows that M=7.3+ earthquakes are possible along this fault zone.

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The southern end also shows evidence of an event roughly 400 years ago, though there is little significant activity in the 5,000 years leading up to it. If the southern onshore segment also ruptures, an estimated magnitude 7.4 natural disaster may occur.

You've heard this before: "The Big One" can strike any day in Southern California.

There is a significant fault between San Diego and Los Angeles that could be the cause of a magnitude 7.4 natural disaster in California. Geological evidence of ancient earthquakes suggests that the fault has ruptured between three and five times in the past 11,000 years. The 1933 Long Beach natural disaster at the fault was magnitude 6.4, killing 115 people. It concluded that further study was needed to better understand the hazard potential in the area.

These contingency plans reflect deep anxiety about the potential gravity of the looming disaster: upward of 14,000 people dead in the worst-case scenarios, 30,000 injured, thousands left homeless and the region's economy setback for years, if not decades. Most of the earliest quakes "appear to be quite large", between magnitude-7.0 and magnitude-7.5, said study lead author Kate Scharer of the USGS.