SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A recent burst of seismic activity along the West Coast has scientists taking notice. They believe these small tremors could potentially be a precursor to something larger.

Over the last few weeks, these small tremors have been reported along the coast of northern California, up to Washington. Scientists said it’s due to the phenomenon called “slow-slip,” and it’s happening north of us out in the Pacific.

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“The Juan de Fuca plate, is what it’s called, is sliding under North America, and sometimes it’s locked, and sometimes it slips. But when it slips, it’s building up stress elsewhere on the fault,” said UC Davis Professor Jim McClain, who teaches Geophysics.

When that kind of stress builds up and is released, it can lead to so-called megaquakes, like the one that rocked Japan and caused a massive tsunami in 2011. McClain, says slow-slip is somewhat new and not completely understood, but could be a precursor to larger seismic activity.

“These things occur where you have a locked plate at relatively shallow depths, where one plate is sliding under another and then you get a release and it’s shallow enough that it will actually shift the sea floor,” said McClain.

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Megaquakes of magnitude nine or more are rare. It’s the smaller ones on land that tend to concern most people. Professor McClain says at some point, it’s likely there will be significant seismic activity along the Bay Area’s Hayward fault.

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“That has the potential of shaking us pretty well here in the central valley, much more than the Loma Prieta earthquake,” said McClain.

A building on the UC Davis campus is currently being upgraded to better withstand the next big quake that affects the central valley. Even though earthquakes are a fact of life in California, some say they are ill-prepared for the next big one.

“I know that there’s always the potential of there being an earthquake, but we just haven’t thought much about it,” said Chuck Mohr.

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Experts say the best way to be prepared is to have an emergency plan, and kit, which includes lots of water and non-perishable food.