Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Will California eventually fall off into the ocean?

Right-click and save to download

Detailed Description

Listen to hear the answer.




Public Domain.


[music fades in]

Welcome to CoreFacts, where we're always short on time and big on science. I'm Steve Sobieszczyk. Oh...I really like today's question.

Will California eventually fall off into the ocean?

Although it's a familiar plot device of criminal masterminds to both superheroes and super-agents, the answer is no. The San Andreas Fault System, for example, which crosses California from the Salton Sea in the south to Cape Mendocino in the north, is the boundary between the Pacific Plate and North American Plate. The Pacific Plate is moving in a northwest direction with respect to the North American Plate at approximately 46 millimeters per year, about the rate your fingernails grow. The strike-slip earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault are a result of this plate motion. The plates are moving horizontally past one another, so California will not fall into the ocean but instead L.A. will one day mosey on passed San Francisco one day.

And now you know. Join us every weekday for a new CoreFact. If you have a question you think we should answer on the air, email it to us at or leave us a voicemail at 703-648-5600; long distance fees do apply.

The USGS CoreFacts is a product of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior.

[music fades out]

Show Transcript