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GPS Uncovers Possible Southwest Quake Risk

The U.S. Southwest isn’t particularly known for its seismic activity, but the Rio Grande Rift, a series of faults and basins that runs from central Colorado south through New Mexico, is alive and stretching, new research shows.

Scientists had suspected the rift might be dead, but measurements of its movement varied widely and were riddled with uncertainties. Now, thanks to state-of-the-art GPS technology, geophysicists have found the rift is indeed extending — just very slowly.

And of course, anytime a large chunk of the Earth’s crust moves, the issue of earthquakes arises.

"There’s certainly potential for earthquakes in this region," said Anne Sheehan, a seismologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who co-authored the new study. "They would be very low-probability events but, like all earthquakes, they could have large consequences if they do happen."

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