Data Collected Five Days After The Magnitude-6.0 Napa Earthquake On Aug. 24 Determined That The Surface Rupture Was Complex, With Multiple Fault Offsets Near The Quake Epicenter. Each Colored Contour In The Image Represents About 12 Centimeters Of Ground Displacement. Nasa/Jpl
Data collected five days after the magnitude-6.0 Napa earthquake on Aug. 24 determined that the surface rupture was complex, with multiple fault offsets near the quake epicenter. Each colored contour in the image represents about 12 centimeters of ground displacement. NASA/JPL

That little earthquake (6.0) in Napa turns out to be helping scientists learn a lot more about that region of California and earthquakes in general. Scientists may be one step closer to understanding how the rumored “Big One” will hit California thanks to new data that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory captured soon after last month’s Napa temblor, the largest earthquake in the Bay Area since 1989.

Data collected from NASA’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, three months before the Aug. 24 quake and then five days afterward informed experts of other faults near the main rupture that need to be studied.

The 6.0-magnitude South Napa quake gave scientists a chance to compare data that was collected around the San Andreas Fault system over the past five years using UAVSAR, an instrument that flies mounted underneath a NASA C-20A Earth science research aircraft.

Although the plane is piloted during takeoff and landing, it is put on autopilot during data collection so that flight tracks and images fall within 33 feet of previous routes. NASA collects UAVSAR data about every six months. The fairly new technology provides more accurate data and higher-resolution images than traditional information collected from satellites, experts said. UAVSAR measures ground motion at a spacing of about 23 feet, whereas satellite images are generally spaced at up to 50 feet.