I know this sounds like a crazy observation but San Francisco has a lot of HUGE buildings in the downtown area , millions of tons or probably more. Many Scientists think a big earthquake there is 'overdue' or maybe 'delayed' for some reason. I was thinking could all the millions or billions of extra 'tonnage' of buildings that has been built over the last 20 years say, could all this 'MASSIVE' pressure on the ground in San Francisco be somehow delaying the build up of any instabilities in the underground areas ? Maybe all the massive buildings in all big cities can serve to 'dampen' any underground instability. Do Earthquakes mainly strike near areas where there are not that many MASSIVE buildings?

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    $\begingroup$ Massive pressure? Not relative to the tectonic forces operating by the nearby fault lines. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 11, 2015 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ How much do all the buildings weigh in downtown San Francisco , an approximation? If 'massive' could this dampen some underground oscillations. I heard some buildings have a huge weight at their top (I think) ; and this is supposed to dampen any oscillations. $\endgroup$
    – 201044
    Jan 12, 2015 at 5:35
  • $\begingroup$ Have most earthquakes occurred near places with not many 'big buildings'? $\endgroup$
    – 201044
    Apr 7, 2015 at 16:04

1 Answer 1


The presence or absence of a large number of massive buildings has no bearing on where and when earthquakes occurs, or their magnitudes; particularly along major fault systems such as the San Andreas Fault.

Earthquakes mainly occur on tectonic plate boundaries, such as the San Andreas Fault, near San Francisco, or the fault systems through Turkey, Italy, New Zealand, near Japan and the Rift Valley in Africa. However, this does not preclude earthquakes from occurring elsewhere, such as in the middle of a tectonic plate.

For many decades some Australians thought that Australia was immune to earthquakes because it lies in the middle of the Indo-Australian plate; then a number of large earthquakes occurred in the latte half of the 20th Century causing people to have a rethink.

The fact is geological faults occur everywhere: some are major, others are minor; some are active, others aren't. If ground movement occurs on a fault an earthquake or tremor will happen regardless of any extra weight on the Earth's surface at any location.

The San Andreas Fault, like many major faults, is not one single fault, but a fault zone of sub parallel faults of varying lengths. The accumulation of stresses along the individual faults are not uniform throughout the entire system. There is no precisely predictable pattern to when an earthquake will occur or where along these major fault systems

There is a picture on the following website showing the system of faults in the San Andreas Fault in the San Francisco bay area.


The size and occurrence of a earthquakes along tectonic plate boundaries is dependent on the speed at which the plates are moving past each other and how much they snag on each other and the strength of the rock at the snag points. With very strong rock at the snag points a lot of pressure can build up over a long time and when that pressure is eventually released when the rock breaks or slips a strong earthquake will occur.

Many earthquakes will occur within the San Andreas Fault system, but it doesn't necessarily mean that San Francisco will be affected any time soon or how badly it will be affected.

  • $\begingroup$ Most building blocks and material for buildings are rigid. Could a building block be made out of some sort of semi-solid substance , like a semi rigid colloid ( if that's the word). Some substance maybe encased in a rigid rectangular 'box' that can partly 'vibrate' without' degrading? So if a big solid structure was made out of the semi-solid bricks it could vibrate a lot without collapsing. Is this feasible? $\endgroup$
    – 201044
    Apr 27, 2015 at 13:29

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