WASHINGTON - It is impossible to predict when the next big earthquake will hit, but researchers said Thursday they have a good idea of where in China such a temblor is likely.
The hot zone is a 60-kilometer segment of the Longmenshan fault which divides the Tibetan Plateau from the Sichuan Basin in southwestern China, said the study in the journal Seismological Research Letters.
The area is northeast of the Lushan rupture zone, and is under pressure as a result of a pair of deadly quakes in Sichuan province in 2008 and 2013, the study said.
That particular segment "is most likely to produce the next big earthquake in this region," said the study, led by Mian Liu of the University of Missouri.
Such a quake could be as large as a magnitude 7, based on the amount of accumulated stress in the fault, it said.
However, a risk assessment map produced by the Global Seismic Hazard Assessment Program "shows the entire Longmenshan fault zone as being relatively safe," the study noted.
A massive 7.9 earthquake in Wenchuan county killed more than 80,000 people in 2008, marking the largest earthquake to hit China since 1950.
A magnitude 6.6 quake in Lushan, about 90 kilometers to the south, in 2013 killed more than 200 people.