PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Could the next "big one" be triggered by a full moon?
"There's more reality to the earthquake moon than there is to the earthquake weather," said Dr. Lucy Jones, research associate with the California Institute of Technology.
Jones spoke with CBS Local 2 and KESQ during a conference Monday in Palm Springs.
Southern California's best known seismologist said the new study from the University of Tokyo helps confirm one piece of earthquake science, but doesn't answer everything most people would want to know. For example, when an earthquake might happen, or how long or powerful it might be.
"You can't go and be worried every time there's a full moon," Jones cautioned.
The study showed big earthquakes can be triggered by the additional weight caused by tidal water straining on geological faults.
But Jones explained that the link between earthquakes and the unusually high tides that happen during new and full moons applies only to certain types of faults called subduction zones. Those types of faults have been responsible for huge quakes like the one in Tokyo in 2011, and not the fault zones in Southern California.
"Because the tides are an actual changing the stress in the earth, you would expect to see a signal. But the signal is small and it's hard to find," Jones explained.
The new information could help improve earthquake forecasting though, especially in places vulnerable to high seismic activity.
However, big earthquakes will still happen outside of full or new moons, she says.
"This means like, an earthquake is going to happen sometimes in these hundred years, and the times of the full moon are a little more likely to have it than the times without the full moon," explained Jones.
The researchers found "that the fraction of large earthquakes increases...as the amplitude of tidal shear stress increases."
"Human beings don't like randomness and we look at this like maybe this is going to take away some of the random," said Jones. "Unfortunately not, we still have that hundred year window."
September's full moon is eclipsed by a penumbral lunar eclipse on the 16th.