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Reno Could Become Coastline ... In Millions Of Years

One day, Reno might be beachfront property.

But you’ll have to wait 10 million years for that, according to Nevada state geologist James Faulds.

Faulds studies a fault line called the Walker Lane, which runs along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada from Los Angeles to Reno. And he thinks it could alter the West in a big way.

Like the San Andreas fault, Walker Lane is where the Pacific Plate and the North America Plate meet. 

Right now, 80 percent of the movement between those two plates is happening at the San Andreas fault and 20 percent is happening at the Walker Lane fault.

But because of the San Andreas fault doesn't run straight, but instead curves in at the southern end, the plates don't move smoothly against one another.

“The two plates are jammed up there and one way to relieve that stress is to have more and more that plate motion come up directly to the northwest from the Gulf of California up the east side of the Sierras along that system of faults called the Walker Lane,” he said.

However, that switch will take millions of years.

Faulds said the San Andreas fault is known to have a major earthquake every 100 years or so, but the Walker Lane has major earthquakes less frequently.

That doesn't mean Nevada's should not be prepared. Faulds pointed out that the state is the third most seismically active state behind Alaska and California.

There are several small fault lines around Nevada that could cause an earthquake at any moment.

Faulds pointed out there is a positive effect of all that seismic activity: geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source with a small carbon footprint that could help the state use fewer fossil fuels.

(Editor's note: This interview originally aired April 2019)


Nevada Seismological Lab

Southern California Earthquake Data Center

James Faulds, Nevada state geologist, UNR

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.