Thursday, December 25, 2008

AGU 2008

...or, How I Psyched Myself Out, 1906-Style

I have finally recovered from the conference-excitement-lack-of-sleep, the redeye flight, the jetlag, and the frantic preparations for a certain winter holiday. Now it is time for the belated Conference Post! I'm going to do AGU all in one go, since my attempt to day-by-day blog SCEC failed worse than an unreenforced masonry building in a 7.8 quake. One of my resolutions for 2009 is to be better about posting more things in a more timely manner - and about commenting more on all of your posts as well!

Monday, 15 December
My flight from Ontario (California) left at a perfectly sane 9 AM, but I was kind of stupid and spent three hours on the 14th playing bluegrass music with friends, then realized that I still had to pack and get everything ready. The end result was that I only got about three hours of sleep, between late bedtime, not sleeping well due to excitement, and having to get up at 6 to catch the airport shuttle. Despite crappy weather, there were no problems getting to Oakland by air, and then by BART to San Francisco proper. My main thought after checking in was food, though, and I was able to meet up with friends from school for this reason. Upon looking at the schedule, we realized that none of the talks that afternoon were all that relevant to our own research, so we decided to take the afternoon and be lazy zombie tourists and go stare at the sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf. The sea lions are awesome. I think that if I lived in San Francisco, I would still go down there to watch the sea lions. By the time we were done there, it was late enough that I could check into the hotel. This was exciting, because happened to be having a huge rate sale on a particular historic place the day I was checking rates for AGU. I therefore got to stay at The Palace, established 1875, which managed to not shake down in 1906, even though the fire still gutted it. It was rebuilt in time for a 1908 reopening, and the interior is still very different from modern hotels. It really felt like staying in a different time, particularly since there was no internet in the room and I was thereby cut off from my little white lifeline to the intarwebz/modern world. I was utterly thrilled by this notion of antiquity, even though I think it ended up psyching me out a little.

Tuesday, 16 December
The psyching out started immediately. I'd set my alarm for 7 AM, but I woke up at 5:10, and couldn't fall asleep again until the clock had gone past 5:12 - which was the exact time of the 1906 quake. At least I did fall back asleep, and I was excited enough about going to sessions that waking up at 7 wasn't hard. My first order of business, though, was to help set up the UCR booth in the exhibition hall. My adviser had sent me to SF with a suitcase full of propaganda, a banner, and a string with which to somehow put up said banner. I wasn't quite sure how to set this up, and after much frustration, the kind people at the Rice booth took pity on me and gave me velcro, which worked. After everything was set up, I went to a session on fault zone evolution through the seismic cycle that gave me a bunch of ideas for things to look into/possible directions to go once I've entered into Dissertationland. Sure, I'm still in Thesisville, but the more ideas the better for later! I met up with my adviser and his other student for lunch, and we discussed those ideas, as well as some work on tsunamis I might be helping with this coming winter. On Tuesday afternoon, I went to a session on earthquake faulting, which turned out to be much more about using waves to characterize/outline fault zones than about fault mechanics. This meant I didn't get nearly as many ideas for my own work as I had from the morning session, but it did fill me in on some of the background I don't have, so it was still a very useful thing. I spent the later session on Tuesday browsing the exhibit hall (and picking up all kinds of stuff, and doing such things as finally joining the Seismological Society of America). The evening was filled with having dessert before dinner, then celebrating the birthday of a friend who was also at the conference, and who is abandoning Riverside for Winnipeg. I will assure her here, as in person, that polar bears will not eat her during her fieldwork.

Wednesday, 17 December
I woke up at 4:31 AM. Though it was early, I was initially glad, since I thought the psyching out had only lasted one day. Then I remembered that the Northridge quake was at 4:31 AM, and it was on the 17th of the month (though January rather than December), and I felt like punching my subconscious in the face. At least I was able to get back to sleep this time as well, and to wake up just fine at 7. I spent the first part of the morning at the UCR booth, which managed to attract no visitors whatsoever while I was sitting there. None of the other school booths seemed to have much attention either, probably because they stuck us all in the back, but it was still kind of lame. The second half of the morning was spent in a session on earthquake simulators, which covered different types of code people were developing to run individual quake simulations, as well as longer-term whole-California multi-cycle simulators. One of these talks involved a state-wide simulator and the phrase, "This starts with the Hayward Fault going in 2008." There was nervous laughter. Would it not be a worst-case scenario not just for that fault to go, but for it to go while all of the people who study quakes are in a place that would be hit hard? Yikes! I noticed one Andrew Alden standing behind me during this session, but I didn't want to turn around and mention that I knew him from Teh Intarwebz mid-session. He left before I could catch him and say hi. I managed to miss the first afternoon session (I'd planned on going to one on earthquake strong motion) because it took so long to find a restaurant without a line, then to still wait and eat, then to go drop off/pick up stuff in my room. I did make it back for the 4 PM session on fault simulations, but this also wasn't want I expected - it was mostly lab friction experiments, the highlight of which unrealistically involved melt spewing out of a rotary fault plane.
There was one thing about Wednesday that I'd been eagerly awaiting from the beginning of the conference, if not earlier - namely, the geoblogger meetup at the Thirsty Bear. I'd read about this meetup last year, before I'd started my own blog, before I'd been accepted in to the geophysics program. I wanted to be there and meet you guys, and I'm so glad I got to this year! It was great to meet Kim, Ron, Lee, David, Dave, Jay, and Sciencewoman in person; we talked about all kinds of things, from which people in our respective parts of the field should be known to people outside the field, to where are good places for gigapanning, to what should or shouldn't be put in a blog. Ron posted photographic evidence and more details here.

Thursday, 18 December
I woke up at 5:20 and immediately thought, "Yes, progress!" before going back to sleep. I was pretty much a slacker about attending things on Thursday morning, too. I did at least cruise through the poster hall to look over the tectonophysics posters on understanding strike-slip fault systems, and some of the seismology posters on laboratory fault experiments. The best part about this was a few posters on the Garlock fault, its geometry, and the possible stress conditions that could have led to its formation and current state of motion/slip. We sort of had a little Garlock fanclub going in that corner as we discussed these things, and I came out of that with another set of ideas for Dissertationland. After this, I went to lunch with my friend who's abandoning SoCal for the Great White North, and I kept giving her crap about the souvenir San Francisco thermometer in the chocolate store might be a good reminder of California, but it didn't go low enough for where she was headed. She also admitted she'd rather be eaten by a sea lion than by a polar bear. Thursday afternoon made up for my morning slackerness, though; all of the fault dynamics seismology talks were that afternoon, as well as the strike-slip system tectonophysics talks, and in some cases, I was torn over which talk I wanted to hear more. Not fair, I say, putting the two most relevant sessions to my work at exactly the same time! I ended up running back and forth between these two sessions quite a bit, and I think I made good choices for the specific talks, because both Thesisville and Dissertationland received many new idea-inhabitants. A friend of mine who was a SCEC intern at UCR over the summer had a talk during the latter seismology session - her first ever conference talk - and she did a particularly good job and received good questions. For this resounding success, as well as the success of one of our department's undergrads at her Wednesday poster session and at my impending Friday morning session, we (three students, plus my adviser and a friend of his from a nearby school) went into Chinatown and had dinner at a fantastic restaurant called House of Nanking. My adviser's friend told the waitress to hit us with the kitchen's best shot, and they kept bringing out plate after plate of delicious food. I highly recommend this place, though I don't remember the specific address. I just know it's on Kearny, and on the left, if you're walking from Market. On the walk back after dinner, we got a UCR fault dynamics lab photo at Lotta's Fountain, which is the site of the yearly 1906 anniversary ceremony.
I'm the short one with the seismogram sweatshirt.

Friday, 19 January
I woke up at what felt like early, but was frustrated and refused to open my eyes for a few seconds. Finally, though, morbid curiosity gave in, and I opened my eyes just in time to see the clock switch from 5:12 to 5:13. Curses! I only got to sleep for another hour after that, because I had to be at the Moscone Center by 7:30 to put up my poster. I was initially worried, since they'd given me a Friday morning session, that most people would have left, but the hall ended up being as packed as it was earlier in the week. I'd put up a sign saying I'd be at the poster from 8 to 10, but so many people came by with good suggestions and input and thoughts and questions that I ended up staying and discussing until 11:15, and the only reason I left then was because I had to check out of the hotel. Almost all of the input was positive (the one negative response was along the lines of, "I don't see what this research is for," rather than "you suck and this is stupid"), and I came out of the session with more specific ideas of what I am going to do immediately next, before writing up this paper, as soon as winter break is over and I'm back in the lab. It also did a lot for my confidence - while I feel like I'm doing good work, and people in my department have said so, I still have a serious nagging confidence issue directly related to my background in music. People saying they wanted to keep in touch on the progress of my work was awesomely encouraging, as was the fact that some of the main people who work on fault geometry issues told me that I had impressive results for just one quarter of grad school so far. The music issue only even came up with one person, and he was pretty much floored when I told him. A couple more conferences like that, and I think I'll have squished the lack-of-confidence issue pretty well. After checking out of the hotel, I had lunch and coffee with a friend who's a geophysics undergrad at Berkeley; he wasn't attending AGU, but he came across the Bay to hang out, which was a lot of fun. We had very nerdy conversations, walked around a lot, and he made a point to show me some buildings that still had very obvious 1906 burn marks. For all I've read about that quake, for all the photos I've seen, seeing the scars in person drives it home all that much more. Once he left, I spent the last part of the afternoon in the poster room, hovering near mine (though I had no more visitors) and skimming others that I hadn't had a chance to check out in the morning. I was actually pretty sad when it came time to finally take the poster down and head out, since I'd enjoyed myself and learned so much in those five crazy busy days. At least I didn't have to leave the City yet, though; I hadn't managed to get a flight to Washington DC (where my family lives) until the 20th, so I had a whole other day, even though I had to relocate to a different hotel in Millbrae.

Saturday, 20 December
I woke up and the clock said 5:12. Even removed from The Palace, it continues! Ahhhh! I was free to not set alarms and be generally leisurely that morning, though, but even without deadlines, I still was on BART back into San Francisco by 10 AM. I spent the entire day just wandering around the City on foot - along the Embarcadero, stopping for lunch at Fisherman's Wharf (and spending more time watching the sea lions, of course), then taking the streetcar back into the financial district and wandering up and down many of the streets. I was trying to find as much 1906 as I could - that is, buildings that had withstood the storm, or those that were proud to proclaim they were among the first ones to be rebuilt. I found quite a few. Some of them, like the Hotel St. Francis or the Flood Building, were ones that I knew specifically to look for, but I came across just as many by accident. They're in there among all the newer buildings, integrated into a city that's beautifully eclectic, speaking loudly of a history from which they recovered but cannot - and should not - escape. They show that San Francisco could take what was thrown at it, and if it could be that strong then - even with the lack of scientific knowledge, and with the bad handling of certain aspects of the recovery effort - it will hopefully be as strong the next time. And there will be a next time, which struck me as sadder than ever after spending a week in San Francisco. I couldn't help but visualize walking down the devastated streets of the historic photos, with the jagged broken brickwork against a dusted-out blue sky, all the while I was glad for being in the solid modern city. Thinking about that, and walking past Lotta's Fountain and the burn-scarred DeYoung building every day on the way to the Moscone Center, made the concept of leaving San Francisco even harder. Some part of me worried - irrationally, I hope - that it might be gone before I could go back. I admit to almost having cried, thinking both about 1906 and about having to leave. But leaving had to happen, and I took BART to the airport, had stupid layover in LAX (worst airport EVER), and red-eyed it over to Washington DC, where I am now.

And so it was a great first AGU. I got so much out of it - from the insight and background into all things earthquake, to specific ideas for my own research, to meeting all kinds of awesome and interesting people, to the realization that I totally want to live in San Francisco some day. I already look forward to next year!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Geological Morbid Curiosity

I completely failed to feel a magnitude 5.1 earthquake last night. A paleoclimatologist friend and I were at one of those paint your own pottery places making holiday gifts for relatives, and the only way we found out about the quake there, in absence of the internet, was a USGS text message and another message from an ethnomusicologist friend asking if I'd felt it. The quake was out near Ludlow, in the middle of the Mojave, a good 80 miles from Riverside. I was impressed that people here felt it at all, especially with all the faults and mountains between here and there, but apparently several thousand people still did. I was admittedly extremely disappointed by this, and kept harping on about it for the entire night.

My harping about not feeling it led to discussion of things we have experienced. While I can talk of bad Virginia winters (blizzards of '93 and '96, hideous ice storms of '94), my paleoclimatologist friend described her experiences with the Landers and Northridge earthquakes. Despite knowing full well the damage and injury that these earthquakes caused, I realized I was actually jealous that she'd been there and I was stuck on the east coast. I guess this explains why I'm a seismologist, huh?

And then, the conversation turned to the matter of whether or not all people who study active and potentially dangerous processes have some morbidly curious internal (or open) desire to experience that major dangerous process in person. It's not that we want to have anything to do with the loss of life and property that would come out of disastrous process of choice; some of the work we do is to try and avoid that loss! It's just curiosity about the actual process, and about wanting to know how much of the hypothesizing and modeling in our work would be comparable to the real thing.

My friend admitted that she's intensely curious to see what would happen if a large part of the Greenland ice sheet catastrophically collapsed into the ocean. And I admitted in turn that, even while being scared by that video of simulated wave propagation for the ShakeOut scenario, part of me does want to be here when the next Big One rips the San Andreas. I certainly would be terribly depressed to see that degree of earthquake damage up close - I wouldn't wish it on anyone even on my crankiest nastiest of sleep-deprived days, and I wouldn't want to experience the damage myself. The photos from 1906 that so fascinate me do so partly (even largely) because they're an unimaginable sort of horror. But yet, I admit to being extremely curious about what that degree of close-up shaking would feel like, and I'd love to see the surface rupture, and I'd particularly love to get a look at all the data that would come out of such a quake.

Do any of you geobloggers (or other readers) share this sort of morbid curiosity? If there were some assurance that your major/sudden/cataclysmic geologic process of choice wouldn't hurt anyone, or that you'd get to experience on a version of Earth otherwise devoid of civilization except for yourself, what do you have to admit you'd like to be there for?

Or are my friend and I the only ones, which makes us perhaps uncomfortably weird?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hiking Lake Elsinore

Yesterday, as a means of combating the sloth and gluttony inherent in Thanksgiving weekend, some friends and I went on a nine mile hike in the Santa Ana Mountains, above Lake Elsinore. It was a trip intended just for walking and being outside, rather than a specifically geological venture, but I was still pretty psyched about getting to hike around in a fault zone with which I didn't have much up close experience. To my disappointment, the trail we selected was far enough up into the mountains that the fault trace itself wasn't actually visible, and all of the outcrops we encountered were between granite and granodiorite, with rounded weathering, and undeformed/unmetamorphosed. (I was not the only one slightly bummed - the only bugs we saw were termites, which was a disappointment to the entomologist on the hike, and the two plant biologists were not thrilled that most of the vegetation was invasive.) That said, it was still a wonderful hike. The weather was great, the scenery was gorgeous despite its lack of faults, and it just plain felt good to get out and walk without the purpose of going somewhere. I wish I could afford the time to go and do this more often in the middle of the quarter. Backlogged homework would kill me dead if I tried, though.

On the drive down from the trailhead, there were some fantastic views:
You can see three of southern California's most prominent peaks from here: from left to right, Mt. Baldy (highest in the San Gabriels), Mt. San Gorgonio (highest in the San Bernardinos), and Mt. San Jacinto (highest in the San Jacintos). You also get a great look at three major fault zones: the San Andreas runs at the foot of the San Bernardinos, from just to the right of Mt. Baldy off to the end of the page; the San Jacinto runs in front of its like-named mountain, branching off the San Andreas to the right of Mt. Baldy and continuing in the other direction toward the end of the image; the Elsinore is in the foreground, with one strand on either side of the lake. Lake Elsinore is, in fact, there to begin with because of this extensional stepover in the fault (and I miiight even look at the possible dynamics of that particular stepover in my thesis, maybe).

This panorama also illustrates a particularly heinous case of Houses On Faults. The houses directly on the banks of Lake Elsinore are smack dab on the fault trace, but the neighborhoods that sit between the base of the Santa Ana mountains and the lower string of hills directly opposite the lake are sandwiched in that extensional zone. That does not bode well for ground motion in and of itself, but it becomes an even sticker situation when you consider the soft lake sediment around there. I also wouldn't be surprised if the liquefaction hazard there is much higher than in pretty much the rest of the Inland Empire (though I'd have to look it up - I haven't done that yet). The houses we drove past also look pretty new, likely newer than the Alquist-Priolo act. I guess most of them fall within the fifty-feet-away clause, but really, what's fifty feet compared to the speed of P-waves? The Elsinore may not have one of the higher seismic hazards in California according to this spring's figures, and it may not be as well known of a fault, but it definitely does still move (last September's 4.7 was on the Elsinore), and I definitely wouldn't want to live on it.

I would, however, be more than glad to hike there again.

Friday, November 14, 2008

UC Riverside Shakes Out!

Thursday the 13th was the Great Southern California ShakeOut, a regionwide drill preparing for a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the southern San Andreas Fault. I first heard about it - though before it was named - in an article in the local newspaper comemmorating the 150th anniversary of the 1857 quake. I guess it was obvious at the time that UCR would be involved; when I found out that we weren't planning anything, I was shocked and disappointed. My adviser and I were ashamed to not raise our hands at the SCEC conference when Lucy Jones asked whose institutions were participating, and it was then that we decided we really need to push for UCR to participate in the drill after all.

My adviser did an an amazing amount of work in a small amount of time, and all kinds of things fell into place. On 21 October, Dr. Lucy Jones of the USGS, local go-to seismologist on the news after any sort of quake, and one of the driving forces behind the science backing up the ShakeOut drill (not to mention someone with whom I have played chamber music), came to our campus and gave a speech discussing the science of the fault and the impact on life and infrastructure that such a quake would have. The talk was geared toward people who do not study earthquakes, and while the turnout was less than we hoped, those who did come asked some really good questions and seemed really effected by Jones' description of the rupture's progress and what it would mean for southern California. I've heard Jones talk about ShakeOut before (at SCEC) and have read some of the publications about it, but the simulation and its ramifications still make me personally shake a little each time I hear about them. Watching that animation of the rupture's progress makes my heart beat very fast, and hearing about the damage draws inevitable (and totally fair) comparisons with 1906, in terms of how much is different now, but how much would end up so close to the same.

On 4 November, Dr. Kim Olsen of San Diego State University came and spoke specifically to the Earth Sciences department about ShakeOut, and how several different types of models of the same rupture scenario had been run by several different institutions. The main ShakeOut drill is based on a kinematic model that makes for high shaking along the fault itself, as well as intense wave guide action focusing equally high shaking into Los Angeles itself. Olsen showed that this kinematic model need not be the gospel of what would happen on this hypothetical rupture pattern anyway; dynamic models of the same thing still show higher shaking in the same places as the kinematic models, but that the intensity of shaking is less all around. It still wouldn't be [i]good[/i], but it could make a difference. (After the talk, Olsen joined our department at the local pizza place/pub to watch election results pour in. Like with charts where red represents high shaking, we were all glad to see much less red than we feared on those election maps.)

In the process of planning for getting the entire campus in on the actual ShakeOut drill, we decided that some sort of earthquake awareness fair on campus would help people understand what they were getting under the desk for, and that there is a real and scientific basis for this whole event, rather than just nebulous fear of a hypothetical "Big One." We decided that the display should have a section on the ShakeOut model/scenario itself, coupled with further information on what one should do in a quake, a section discussing historical earthquakes in California or of magnitude/impact comparable to the ShakeOut Drill (we featured 1906, Wenchuan, Northridge, Chino Hills, Sumatra-Andaman, and the 1690, 1812, and 1857 San Andreas quakes), and a few posters and computer screens showing off the particular work being done in our department. We also slathered posters advertising the drill and fair all over campus - three rounds of posters over the course of the quarter, in fact. The last set said, "A magnitude 7.8 earthquake will hit southern California. We don't know when. Wouldn't you rather be ready sooner than later?" We figured scaring them a little bit would be more likely to get some attention in a place that seems pretty jaded or in denial about its seismicity.

The actual drill was on the 13th, as it was across the state. Our campus' response didn't involve elaborate emergency simulation complete with fake blood and guts, but every teacher holding a class at 10 AM was supposed to lead their students in a minute of Drop Cover And Hold On: a length of time that could be a minimum for shaking in this sort of earthquake. In the case of our department, it was the total opposite of any real earthquake - we stopped what we were doing with setup for the fair, went inside, and got under the table at the right time. I don't know how many other students actually paid attention to the publicity we had for this, and while I hope most of them knew, I kind of also hope some were genuinely surprised, as everyone really would be. I also have no idea how many teachers actually did the drill, but I'm hoping that it was most to all. There was a siren on campus that was supposed to aid in the "emergency" feel of this, but everything I've heard from people suggests that it just plain wasn't loud enough. Our department was the only one that did the actual evacuation as well, and that did go smoothly, though not without loud overacted remarks to be careful of all the rubble.

The fair ended up being a huge success. Many people stopped by to at least look at things, and many more asked questions. I didn't see how many people bought things from the emergency supply vendors we had come in, but they seemed pleased when it was all over as well. I was personally manning the booth about historical earthquakes, and I got a lot of good questions and stories - I met someone who had been in Anchorage in the massive (9.2) 1964 quake, and I met someone else whose grandmother had been in San Francisco in 1906. I also unintentionally scared the crap out of some recent east coast transplants by merely mentioning that the southernmost San Andreas has been paleoseismically shown to go about every 150 years, but hasn't popped since 1690ish. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by that, even though I felt bad, since that little statistic scared the snot out of me when I first moved out here. We definitely opened the eyes of a few native Californians, though, which was so much of the goal.

At the end of the day, our whole department was feeling pretty awesome, but in the middle of our celebrating that success, I had to keep looking back toward the San Andreas, the real "star" of the show, so to speak. It was, of course, smooth and quiet at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains, something you probably wouldn't think of if you didn't know it was there (or, well, if you weren't an earth scientist). As the sun started going down, I couldn't help but imagine a dark surface rupture scar ripped along there, and that the usual SoCal smog was quake-induced smoke. That mental image was enough to make me want to thank the fault for not doing that yet, for waiting until after ShakeOut, for allowing people to explain to others what the Fault can do rather than showing everyone itself.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Geosong: Kathy Kallick's "The Quake of '89"

I've given up on even pretending about the "...of the week" part, but I still have plenty of songs!

I've already highlighted a few songs that were either explicitly about Northridge, or were released within a year or so of that earthquake. I've only come across two songs (thanks to Kim for the second!) about Loma Prieta, however. Since today is the 17th of October, which is the 19th anniversary of that earthquake, I'm going to feature one of them: Kathy Kallick's "The Quake of '89."

Kathy Kallick is another musician I'd never heard of before I started compiling the Fault Poking Playlist. A quick bit of googling tells me that she's originally from the Chicago area, but moved to the Bay Area in the 1970s, where she started a bluegrass band. She's lived in that area since (making her Loma Prieta experience firsthand, rather than a song about a thing on the news), and while bluegrass is still her main musical style, her solo albums have a more diverse set of influences.

"The Quake of '89" is not stylistically bluegrass. It is more of somewhere between mainstream country and pop, very upbeat, with guitars and keyboards. The fact that it is such a musically-upbeat song about a very serious topic, though, is very much in line with bluegrass.

The lyrics combine a personal reaction to the quake (building up supplies to prepare for the next one, planning escape routes, feeling generally freaked out) and some intrapersonal conflict, in that Kallick seems to be singing to some unknown significant individual (I'd guess a lover, since it's a pop-ish song, but it's not really clear) about how everyone who cared about her contacted her after the quake except for that person. Considering how many of my east coast friends and family called me after this summer's Chino Hills quake - much MUCH smaller than Loma Prieta! - I would agree with Kallick that it takes a pretty darn insensitive and inconsiderate soul to not check in when something really big does happen.

But for the storyline of the song, the thing that still really gets me is the chorus, specifically the first line of it:
"The earth went bang, there were two big waves."
Yes, we have specified P-waves and S-waves! And this is a country/pop song. It's not meant as an educational song, it's not by a scientist or for in-joke scientist consumption. It's mainstream country/pop song, written by a professional songwriter who experienced the quake, and we've got specific P-waves and S-waves and the truck-hitting-building sound that comes with them. This level of detail in a song that's not a novelty or an educational tool makes me irrationally happy.

There's another line in this song to which I can closely relate. Near the end of the song comes the verse:
"I've been thinking a lot about bridges,I've been thinking a lot about time.
Things shift into focus when your life is on the line.
To me, that was the message of the Quake of '89."

I cannot, of course, relate to this regarding Loma Prieta specifically, since I was five years old and in Virginia at the time. But my life being on the line in that car accident in 2007 (which was not on a bridge, but the road was raised) definitely put a lot of things into focus for me, and was one of the reasons I decided to go for it and change majors. I have no plans to write a song about that accident, but an event that can instill the same clarity after fear in thousands of people, an event like Loma Prieta, is undoubtedly worthy of musical treatment, even without explicit mention of P- and S-waves. Those just make Kathy Kallick's song a particularly good one.

Kathy Kallick on Rhapsody

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rapid-Response Seismic Array Drill

I had my first experience in setting up an array of seismic stations this past Thursday! In conjunction with the Great Southern California ShakeOut - though not directly part of the drill - one of the professors in our department wanted to do a practice rapid response deployment on the San Andreas. She asked for volunteers among students and faculty alike to help with the deployment; I jumped at the chance, initially thinking it would just plain be a good experience. I realized a little later that, if there were to be a significant earthquake in the area, and if part of this professor's job is to go out and deploy stations, those of us who helped with the practice run might actually be enlisted to help out when the real deal happens. Exciting!

Our practice run took us to Whitewater, California, between Palm Springs and Cabazon. This little bitty town sits on top of the active Banning strand of the San Andreas, and part of the fault's trace is indicated by a distinct band of green trees set against the brown of Whitewater Canyon's plant life and rocks. The green part, however, was not the part where we put the stations. We had permission from the owner of a large chunk of the land in the canyon to pepper his property with equipment. (For a House-On-Fault guy, he seemed pretty with it. Not that choosing to live on the fault is the best move, but he knew its general direction relative to the house, had the house retrofitted, and was willing to let scientists do their thing!) We actually had a harder time finding the fault on this guy's land than we would have expected. All of the fault features were subtle, and within our group of about ten people, we had three different guesses, though all were within about 100m of each other. In the end, I think we got pretty darn close to sticking our "midpoint" station on the actual fault, since it was easiest to dig holes there, and the soil got chunkier and with larger rocks the further out from the midpoint we went.

We set up eleven stations: one supposedly on the fault itself, five to the north, and five to the south. The first four of each of those were spaced 50 meters apart, with the final station 100 meters away from the previous one. We did the installation in stages, visiting each station a few times throughout the day, rather than doing each step in one go and leaving the station be. The first step was digging holes - two per station, one for the strong motion sensor and one for the weak motion sensor. I personally dug five holes, and definitely felt it the next in ur fault diggin holez

After the holes were finished, we set out the equipment. Each station included a strong motion sensor (with the brand name EpiSensor - gotta love how punnable seismology really is!), a weak motion sensor, a solar panel, a GPS transmitter, a control box for the solar panel, a control box for the entire setup, and a truck battery. The third pass over all of the stations was to actually hook all of the things up, turn them on, bury the sensors, and try and keep the boxes of equipment and solar panels out of view from the nearby road. This proved to be no small feat for the station furthest to the north, since the site was maybe 50m from said road. But we were resourceful and tricsky, and using various tumbleweed and dead creosote bush parts and various other partially burned dead plants, we constructed a row of bushes where there had only been tufts of grass before. It looked natural from the road, and we made sure to actually secure the wood in the dirt, and to weigh it down with rocks. Here's hoping it doesn't blow away!
Marvel at our artificial bushes! There is a solar panel in this photo, really!

The last step was to make sure all the sensors were recording as they were supposed to. The weak motion ones could be set off with a good hard stomp, but we were having a hard time testing the strong motion ones. Stomping, even in conjunction, barely got a flicker. It required dropping of the largest liftable rocks on site to get a testable reading. "Can You Trip The Strong Motion Detector" definitely sounds like some sort of strange game show, does it not?

The deployment ended up taking most of the day - not exactly the most rapid response ever. Naturally, people who aren't doing this for the first time can get stations up much faster! I'd like to think our little UCR crew would be faster the next time, too. The stations will stay in place for about two months. Since that particular section of the fault has a lot of microseismicity, these stations ought to pick up some events, making them definitely useful for more than just an installation drill. And if the Big One does hit within those two months, well, we'll be a step ahead in the deployment, right? Riiiight?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

SCEC Day Five

Hey, it's only a month after the conference ended, and I'm finally to the last day!
(Now that this is the last one, I probably really will post more, and will get to the field trips and songs and stuff. Stupid "I must finish this before I do that" mentality!)


This was really only a half day of substance, and half of that half was closing off all the organizational and planning stuff. The middle chunk of the morning, however, was occupied by a panel debate over whether geologic or geodetic rates are better for evaluating fault slip rates and seismic hazard. The discussion centered on major faults east of the San Andreas, namely the whole series of Mojave right lateral strike slip faults; the faults in the Sierras, Owens Valley, and Death Valley; and the Garlock. The consensus of the debate was an agreement to disagree, with a call to finetune both methods of figuring out slip rates, with the hope that they might eventually come to more of an agreement. But even though the topic was slip rates, about halfway through the debate, I realized I was left with more intriguing questions about cause and effect in terms of why those faults are there. Does the Garlock's presence compensate for the expansion of the Sierras and further east, or is part of their expansion due to having this east-west fault there to slip along? I've heard enough different opinions on the Garlock from talks and conversation that, with the wondering that came from this conference, it is really high time for me to delve into whatever papers I can find on the matter. (Though, on the other hand, I should read the papers relevant to my specific current project first...) Still, anyone have any particular favorites or suggestions?

I slipped out of the room for some of the last bits of organizational talk, and it seems like I wasn't the only one to do so. It was during that time that I finally caught up with the people to whom I was supposed to show my drawings - namely, some of the organizational people for The Great Southern California ShakeOut. I showed them the comics, with the offer to do something similar as ShakeOut event propaganda, gratis. I had no idea what sort of response to expect, since the main things I see when I look at my own drawings are all the flaws and mistakes. Fortunately (surprisingly!), the response I got was flatteringly positive, and I was told outright that I was being too modest about my work, which only made me blush more. Discussion quickly fell on the fact that ShakeOut is really darn soon, and this comics-about-earthquakes thing could be applicable to broader outreach/awareness (aimed at high school/undergrad), rather than just to a single event. The thought was that I could do two different comics - one SoCal specific, one Bay Area specific, both featuring the San Andreas character, as well as characters of some more localized faults. Color me (ha-hah...) excited! I haven't heard anything about this since the conference, but I'm not about to send poking emails just yet. Since we decided it's a not-just-ShakeOut thing, and ShakeOut is next month, I figure that the drill is everyone's sole priority right now. Hopefully this will develop into a real project eventually, though!

I go to the last hour of closing-off-the-meeting talk, though I was admittedly a little distracted by the prospect of the outreach/awareness drawings.

Even with all the organizational stuff, I thoroughly enjoyed my first ever conference/meeting. It was a fantastic chance to meet many of the major people in the field in a relatively small setting (around 500 people), and to see a lot of the research that's being done (albeit in concise poster form). It was also exciting to get my own first ever poster out there and to get feedback on it. I got new ideas for things to look at/model next from pretty much everyone I talked with, and that may very well have been the best part over all.

The deadline for AGU abstracts was the last day of SCEC, and I submitted mine that morning. I'm looking forward to that as well, though by size alone, it should be vastly different from SCEC. Should I expect to see a lot of geobloggers there?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

SCEC Day Four

I will finish! I swear! And then I have, oh, five field trips, one earthquake, one appearance in an Associated Press article, and a bunch of classes to write about. Augh!

Day Four of SCEC was the biggest day for me, in that it was the day my poster went up. I put it up as early as I was allowed to do so, then resisted the urge to hover around it the entire day in hopes of people stopping by to ask questions. I was good and actually went to the talks instead!

There were three talks on Tuesday. The first was about May's Wenchuan, China quake. It was basically a tour of the surface rupture, while mapping where there was more vertical versus more horizontal displacement. This varied widely along the fault, and even though it was largely a strike-slip earthquake, there were still vertical displacements up to five meters(!) in some places. All of these extremes were accompanied by photos, and the presenter seemed to have everyone's rapt attention. Later on the day was a talk on earthquake early warning systems, which mostly focused on the one currently being tested in Japan. It was a good talk, but people kept walking in and out because the hotel staff put ice cream right outside the door, so there were noise (and sugary) distractions. The last of the talks was on using the codas of seismograms for imaging, and I really couldn't follow much of it at all. As soon as the speaker got into the methods, everything became almost entirely lost on me. (Turns out my adviser was kind of lost, too, so I felt a little better about having no idea what was going on.)

Between the second and third talks were more of the focus group meetings, including the Faulting and Rupture Mechanics group, which is where my research falls within SCEC's divisions. Like with the Extreme Ground Motion group the day before, though, this was a discussion that was light on the science and heavy on the deliberation over which terminology to put in the mission statement. But if this is how science works as an organization, it is still important for me to see it, even if I end up doodling a lot.

After the third talk was the first actual poster session. For all my excitement in putting up my poster in the morning, I actually didn't end up lingering near it in the afternoon. This was because the other person who is working on the bent faults project, other than my adviser and I, had finally made it to the meeting, and we needed to talk about his thoughts on results thus far and where to go next. He had some interesting things to say about the results thus far, and gave me more ideas for future directions of research, while helping to narrow down the next step in this particular project. He's not personally going to be involved until I start doing some field things, or start modeling some more complex geometries, but it was good to actually talk with this guy I'd only previously heard about.
The evening poster session actually (finally) involved me standing by my poster and answering questions. About ten people dropped by, which was certainly a pleasing number for me. Most of them just asked me for a basic summary (after which the Harvard people started doing complex math out loud in front of me, which was a bit intimidating, but I guess that's why they're Harvard people!), but the guy who stuck around the longest and asked the most questions was a geologist working on hazard evaluation. He said he was very interested in the future results of my stepovers and bends work, and that he'd keep an eye out for how it's going. He also mentioned a few real places I should look at once I've shored up my results with hypothetical faults. I was glad for the direct suggestions; the whole day was another one on which everyone I talked with gave me ideas, though, even if indirectly.

I didn't manage to find the people to which I was supposed to show artwork by the time I was about to pass out from tiredness on Tuesday, but I was also too tired to worry about it at the time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SCEC Day Three

Apparently, if I set deadlines for myself (as opposed to following other people's deadlines set for me), I completely fail to meet them. Oops. That said...


My adviser showed up on Monday morning, which was a definitely relief for me in terms of the social aspect of the conference. I'd already been getting a lot out of the science by just listening, but I'd been feeling really shy about approaching people and talking. It's like I got this mental block where they were all Big Prominent Important Scientists and I was newbie-with-a-music-degree. Fortunately, my adviser is very outgoing, and he started introducing me to all kinds of people and initiating all sorts of conversations. I'm sure I'll get better at starting conversations myself the longer I'm in the field, but this time would have made for a very quiet Julian if not for my adviser.

There were three talks in the morning, all related to The Great Southern-California ShakeOut, a huge earthquake drill slated for this November, which many others in the geoblogosphere have addressed. The first of these talks focused on the scenario itself - a magnitude 7.8 quake on the San Andreas, rupturing from Bombay Beach to just south of Tejon Pass. (I actually still wonder about the choice of stopping point, since it's not quite to the bend yet. My research thus far has to do with how bends and stepovers of particular lengths and angles stop rupture, and so far, none of my models - very simplified though they may be - stop before hitting the first corner/bend. So I want to know more about that choice for ShakeOut!) This first talk also discussed of of the events associated with ShakeOut other than the earthquake drill itself, most prominently a Quake Awareness Fair in Los Angeles. The second of the talks took off from there, discussing further ways to raise public awareness and to further research. It was only in the course of this talk that I found out that UCR was not slated to participate in ShakeOut, which I find pretty inexcusable, since we're one of the core institutions of SCEC. Since then, we've managed to get the school administration's attention, so there's still hope and time for us to get involved. The third of the morning's talks was about planned emergency response to the ShakeOut scenario, and I have to admit that this particular talk got dull quickly. Very important stuff was outlined in it, but important does not mean it's necessarily interesting to listen to.

Day Three of the conference was also the day that the actual science planning part of the meeting got started. I went to the planning session for the Extreme Ground Motion focus group, and the discussion was less about the actual science of ground motion and more squabbling over how to word the focus group's objectives for the next year's Official Science Plan. The highlight of this discussion was that some figures based on models an undergraduate friend of mine ran were put up on the big screen and discussed for a while; they were mentioned as the work of her adviser, though, and I could tell that my adviser wanted to get up and say they were the work of an undergrad, but he refrained from doing so. My friend felt pretty awesome about that all for the rest of the day, though, at least as far as I could tell.

There was one more big group talk after lunch, and it was tangentially about ShakeOut, in that it used the simulation as a springboard for engineers to re-evaluate the building code. The discussion quickly got away from the actual earthquake and went into statistical methods employed by engineers to figure out best-case and worst-case scenarios. My eyes admittedly started crossing a little from it all, though I did pick up that this speaker, like so many other people at SCEC, was of the opinion that Riverside is going to be completely screwed when The Big One hits.

The same posters that were up on Sunday stayed up through Monday, so I took the afternoon poster session time to attempt to make some quicktime movies of my models, which I realized only during the conference that I'd forgotten to do in advance. This was tricky, because the server on which I'd run the models had been hacked several days before SCEC, so remote logins were super tightly guarded. My adviser fortunately was able to get in, but only with a very slow connection, and then the files turned out to be too huge anyway.

Monday's dinner was the only indoor meal of the whole conference; the air conditioned venue was to honor a few members of SCEC who were retiring/going to different jobs. There were enough people discussed that, if we'd honored each on a different night, there could have been several air-conditioned dinners. Why did nobody else think of this?! At dinner, I got into a conversation with the same USGS person who told me about Salton Sea explosives that somehow led to me pulling out some of the earthquake-related art I've done. She seemed to really enjoy it, and told me the names of several people she felt really needed to see this stuff. Finding those people became part of my mission for the rest of the conference.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mineral Meme

That mineral meme seems to still be working the rounds through the geoblogosphere. Here's my results.

Instructions: Use bold to indicate minerals you’ve seen in the wild. Italics is for those seen in laboratories, museums, stores, or other non field locations.





Silver (native)

Sulphur (native)



I guess that's not bad for a newbie, is it?

SCEC Day Two

It would appear that I have failed miserably at live-blogging the SCEC conference. That said, I will still post about each day at a time! Just, you know, offset by a few days. I'm studying strike-slip faults; I'm good at offset. Yeah...

Day Two of the conference included a field trip for students only. Our advisers and mentors all got to sit in the too-cold hotel and listen to organizational talk, while we got to go hang out in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Despite the 110-degree heat, we students clearly got the better end of the deal.

The purpose of the field trip was to look at features of the San Jacinto Fault, and the trip was led by a PhD student whose dissertation is on the particular part of the fault we visited. I got the impression that, given how the trip leader described what a scarp is and how it formed, and how streams get offset, that this trip was more geared toward people who had not seen fault features up close and personal before. That said, I am always glad for a chance to poke those features, particularly in places I haven't been before! The San Jacinto in Anza Borrego has many strands, some separated by a couple of kilometers, some only by a few feet. The latter manifested itself by chopping an alluvial fan into narrow shreds; the shred moved by the most active strand of fault is also marked by a four-foot scarp. There were also offset streams on all sorts of scales. The trip led us from one that was only deflected by three feet all the way to one that, rivaling the San Andreas' Wallace Creek on the Carrizo Plain, was pulled over a hundred feet to the right. That is quite a testament to the power of this young and active fault!

(I took a ton of pictures of these features, but all the good ones are in the form of panoramas, which I have not yet stuck together yet. I'll be posting them once they're done!)

We took about half an hour for lunch, then continued on to look at a mylonite zone high on a ridge. In order to get there, the tour bus had to go on a narrow and winding road that was clearly not designed with tour buses in mind. This made me nervous in and of itself, but I nearly started shaking when the bus turned toward the edge of the cliff. I realized, only when we did not start falling, that there was a turnaround here and we were actually trying to park. Parking was successful, but that still wasn't a shock that I needed. The mylonites in question were down the cliff from the bus, and only about half of us (myself included) actually climbed down to look. I was disappointed that they did not clang harmoniously beneath my feet (as Kim has observed with a different mylonite zone), but they made up for it by having very clearly defined shear/scrape marks, even on top of the elongated mineral grains. This is not something I'd seen up close before, and I thought it was very very cool.

On the ride back to Palm Springs, I was still so excited about the trip that I was sure I'd be awake and alert enough to catch the end of the Southern San Andreas Fault Evaluation (SoSAFE) workshop, but as soon as I got back into the air conditioned hotel, the exhaustion of spending several hours outside in the desert in summer hit me, and I decided a nap would be the obvious use of my time (or rather, my body decided this for itself). The most useful thing I did for the rest of the evening was help a friend of mine put up her poster (there were two sessions, hers was in the first, mine was in the second). I looked at a few posters as well, but my attention span was shot from tiredness, so I mostly took mental notes of which I wanted to come back to the next day and look at in more detail. I was not too braindead to appreciate the plate tectonics puzzle game for little kids, though. I think I want one, nevermind that I'm 24!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

SCEC Day One

I have been entirely absent for the last week and a half in order to get things together for my first ever geo conference. Models had to be run, figures had to be made, and posters had to be assembled. But all came off well, and I am currently at that conference! I'm planning on making daily posts to summarize what's going on. I'll try to get back to the songs next week!

The Southern California Earthquake Center's annual meeting is part conference (mostly posters, but a bunch of talks, too) and part organizational meeting to discuss the organization's scientific goals and progress. There are only about 500 people here, so it's certainly no AGU, but that's probably a good thing for a newbie's first conference.

This meeting happens to be in Palm Springs. Were it winter, this would be fantastic, but considering it is September, it's a monumentally bad idea. Here's why:

Aaand it was 111 today. I guess their reasoning must be that, if you're going to be studying earthquakes and faults in southern California, you'd better get used to baking in the desert. Perhaps this is also their reasoning for holding all the meals outdoors - just like field work, right?

I think this might also be a factor in the decision to have the conference at this particular hotel, though:

This is basically the most appropriate street name for a conference on California earthquakes EVAR. Unlike the Andreas Avenue in San Bernardino, though, this one is actually a good five miles away from the fault.

There was only one actual session's worth of science today. This was the first part of the Extreme Ground Motion focus group's report. Their work over the past few years has been focused on Yucca Mountain. This is a site in the middle of the Nevada desert that is a possible repository for a frightening amount of nuclear waste. The site is also on the edge of the caldera of an extinct volcano, and is sliced by a series of normal faults. It does not take a scientist to realize that large earthquakes plus nuclear waste cannot equal anything good. SCEC's ExGM group has been working to determine how serious the seismic threat there actually is. So far, the conclusion seems to be that the probability of ground motion strong enough to release the radioactive material is incredibly low. The faults in question show only several hundredths of a millimeter of motion per year, and are all relatively short. There are cliffs and mountain faces that have also been dated to show that they haven't moved much in the past million years, or even since the Miocene, when they formed. There are pack rat middens that are thousands of years old and still in place, suggesting no strong ground motion within that span. One paper also looked at pore structure in sedimentary components of Yucca Mountain, noting that laboratory-induced strong motion crushes the pores to a certain shape that cannot be restored, and the rock at the mountain does not show this crushing, indicating that there has been no extreme ground motion there since the deposition of these units. I get the impression that, even though the threat is not as high as initially thought, the group still doesn't want the waste dumped at Yucca Mountain, though. Can't blame them for that!

At dinner, I finally got to meet the guy whose dynamic code I'm using for my models; it was cool to talk to someone with whom I had only interacted by email thus far. I also met someone from USGS Menlo Park who just plain didn't believe me when I told her this was my first conference, because she was sure she'd seen me somewhere before. We concluded it could've been a random run-in in Parkfield or something. She also mentioned that the Menlo Park seismic imaging group will be doing some work down by the Salton Sea next year, for which they would like to have students help out. Apparently, explosives are involved. Playing with explosives for science? As a Mythbusters fan, how could I not turn down that opportunity?!

The shower in my hotel room has a temperature gage with degrees Fahrenheit on the knob. Out of curiosity, I tried to set it to what today's air temperature was, and it turned out I couldn't do so without pushing the big red Super Duper Hot button. Bad sign! I did not push the button. I will continue to delight in the fact that the AC makes it pretty cold in my room. And now I sleep - field trip in the morning!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Modeling Woes

I suppose I should revel in the irony that is getting a segmentation fault error while compiling a model of a fault with segments, but right now, it's just getting on my nerves. I set this model up just like all the others, only with a different angle! The others all worked! Why not this one? Perhaps I will enjoy the irony more once I've fixed it.

I submitted my first ever conference poster abstract last week. Is anyone here planning on going to the Southern California Earthquake Center conference in Palm Springs on 6-10 September?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Cinematic Connection...

As a still-fairly-raw newbie to the field of geology, my sphere of connections within that field is limited to the people in the department at UCR and to the geoblogosphere. (The latter of course, means that my sphere of connections is growing quite quickly! But in terms of the whole discipline, I assume that's still a fairly small group.) Being new to the field formally, however, does not mean I haven't used geo-geekery to connect to things that are not specifically scientific!

Remember my post from the Accretionary Wedge about geology movies? If not, it may be a bit TL;DR, so in summary: there is a movie coming out in 2009 or 2010 called 1906, and it is indeed about the earthquake and fire. The book upon which the movie is based is kind of dreadful, since all the characters are too perfect and don't act like normal human beings, and since it refers to the San Andreas Fault by name and talks about plate tectonics in 1906. The good news is that Brad Bird, of The Incredibles and Ratatouille fame is writing the screenplay and directing the film, and Pixar is doing the special effects. This means the movie will look awesome, and the characters will be reshaped into believable, realistic, empathetic, and flawed humans rather than turn-of-the-century Perfectionbots. I was, however, worried that things like the two-years-too-anachronistic SAF references might slip by.

I mentioned worrying about it in that post from March, and then I kept thinking about it for a couple of days after writing that post. After thinking about it, compelled by geekery, I decided to try and make a connection for which I thought I must be crazy. Yes, I wrote a letter to Brad Bird.

I left out the part about the Perfectionbots, since they are not his fault and I'm sure he's fixing them. As I said before - and as I said in the letter - he can make talking rats completely credible and believable! Humans in crisis should be a piece of cake. I focused on the purely geological- the San Andreas and the tectonics, devoting a paragraph to each. I also apologized profusely in advance if I came across as an "insufferable know-it-all/geek" in the letter, and if the production team already knew all of that stuff.

A bunch of time passed. When I got back from the east coast in mid July, my apartment manager handed me an envelope she said had been sitting in the office since June and she'd kept forgetting to give to me. The return address was for Pixar

Yes, Brad Bird wrote back!
And it's not just a, "Thank you for sending fanmail LOL" kind of letter. It is three paragraphs long, mentions specific things in my letter, and is very gracious and friendly in tone. I also got the impression, though I could easily be wrong, that they didn't necessarily already know the things I mentioned.
Take a look:

First fanmail for 1906! And he even quoted me on "insufferable know-it-all/geek." I was pretty much glowing when I received this letter. The "token" mentioned at the end was two signed prints: one of a scene from Ratatouille and one of a "family picture" of The Incredibles.

So being a geology geek can, apparently, be enough to make a connection - no matter how brief - with one of today's biggest names in movies. This is only made more exciting when that brief connection reveals that the big name in question is not only brilliant at what he does, but awesome and considerate enough to keep in touch with his fans and write personal responses...and to put up with nerds such as myself. I'm already planning to write another letter once I've seen 1906, and I will be very surprised if I cannot say I was as pleased as he'd hoped.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Geosong of the Week: The Sundowners' "San Andreas Fault"

Getting tired of that song title yet? Well, tough, because this isn't even close to the last one!

This week's song falls into a category that hasn't turned up yet in my song reviews: songs that use geological features and events as metaphors for other things, but don't actually focus on those events. The Sundowners' "San Andreas Fault" is probably the first song I found in this category (I think - I don't know the exact order in which I found these!), and I was actually kind of surprised that a song with such a title really has so little to do with earthquakes.

The metaphor here is of the San Andreas as a ticking time bomb - but not of the blow everything into smithereens type. I'm pretty certain that the songwriter was aware how the fault works, since the metaphor also involves pulling two people away from each other. Yes, we have a seismically-inclined failed relationship song here. The lyrics don't outright mention pulling apart, but the rest of the song makes it plenty clear that this is what's going on.

The Fault's name only comes up twice:
"Feels like I am standing on the San Andreas Fault. I believe it's only a matter of time. All you pushers and you shovers and you disenchanted lovers better take a number and move on down the line."
"Hello, operator, can you get me someplace else? Anywhere but here would be alright. It feels like we are standing on the San Andreas Fault, and you and I are running out of time."

Actually, "move on down the line" fits in nicely with the impression of strike-slip motion, but I'm sure the songwriter wasn't thinking that far into this!

The rest of the song describes the problems between the singer and his significant other, and what needs to happen in order for the relationship to work out. The significant other seems to be at fault here (hey - this song doesn't use that pun, so I had to get it in there somewhere!); s/he's apparently guilty of all kinds of lying and mistrust and afraid to sacrifice anything for the greater good of the relationship. The accumulation of stress seems like it will eventually snap the singer's patience just like it snaps a plate boundary. Good on him, I guess, that he wants to get out before there's an enormous surface rupture scar ripping his house and heart in half!

Reviews of the album this song is from, Strange Hours (2001), describe The Sundowners' style as a mixture of modern and classic rock, and lyrical all the way. I think that pretty much pegs it. There is nothing particularly special or outstanding about the style, but this song at least is pretty darn catchy. It has gotten itself firmly stuck in my head in the past, and it's an enjoyable enough song that I didn't mind.

Based on CD review sites (the band's own website doesn't seem to exist anymore, and I can't find anything on them past this CD, so I assume they broke up), The Sundowners are based in North Carolina, which is not a place that generally gets associated with earthquakes in any shape or form. The fact that they've chosen the San Andreas as an impulse for songwriting shows the extent of its infamy, and how it has wormed its way into popular culture as something big and dangerous and shaky. People may know that the San Andreas Fault is that earthquake thing, even if they haven't had a geology class (much like how the Richter Scale has become a popular metaphor/reference, even if people don't understand how it works). But then again, pop infamy could play into the misconception that the San Andreas is the only earthquake thing in the States, at least. And there are still all too many people in California (a good third of the class when I took Geo 1) that don't know what the fault really is.

The most likely thing is that I am reading too much into a catchy pop song. But is that not what I promised to do in these blog posts?

The Sundowners' Strange Hours on Rhapsody
I can't find the lyrics already typed out on teh intarwebz, but if people want it, I can transcribe.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pull-apart basins of the Inland Empire

Last Wednesday, despite the ludicrous August-in-SoCal temperatures, those of us who are hanging around the UCR geology building this summer had the opportunity to go on a field trip to look at pull-apart basins on the San Andreas and San Jacinto Faults. The trip was led by one of the senior faculty members here, who worked at USGS for a long time (and whose name is on quite a few USGS maps of the area) before coming to teach here; I'd heard he leads some awesome field trips, so how could I pass this up, weather aside? Long story short, there was no disappointment whatsoever, and I learned almost more than I thought possible for a four-hour air-conditioned car ride.

This trip managed to tell three different stories. The first was structural; the pull-apart basins we visited on this trip come from extensional stepovers within single faults, in this case right-lateral strike slip faults that step to the right of each other. As the faults pull, the land between them subsides, creating a basin that's ripe for flooding. Sediment accumulates in these basins, and the rapid subsidence also causes the sides mountains surrounding the basin to slough off in landslides. Most of the mountains we saw showed rolled landslide toes, rather than clean faceted ridges. The San Jacinto/Hemet basin is still actively sinking, and at this time of year, that sediment shows itself as lots and lots of dust. I've been past this area before, and at the time, I laughed at the thought that a completely dry area was marked as a river overflow zone, but this field trip told me why! The subsidence is uneven enough that the San Jacinto River, when it has water in it, runs right up against the base of the mountains. That barrier makes pooling up all the easier, and it doesn't take much water to start spilling over toward neighborhoods and farms. We followed this up by visiting the inactive Mill Creek basin on the San Andreas, near Yucaipa and Crafton Hills. Here again is a body of water (with actual water in it this time!) right up against the mountains. Natural exposures and roadcuts alike show thick layers of sandstone, some with ample evidence of soft-sediment deformation (likely coseismic), between the basement rock on either side of the basin. The extension that formed this basin is also responsible for a series of normal faults in Crafton Hills; the San Jacinto basin will likely develop these as well, given enough time.

The second story here is about mapping. The area around both of these extensional basins has been mapped many times, by several different agencies, and there has been a tendency to ignore features specifically related to extension and assume that the faults are more literally responsible for every geomorphic feature in the area. Subsidence scarps have, in the past, been marked as fault scarps. The sharp boundaries between basement and accumulated sediment - ie, the edges of the basin - are also often taken as faults. The latter isn't just a pull-apart basin problem: the Perris Block, on which Riverside sits, has not deformed much internally in recent geologic time, but it had plenty of internal topography, and the lower points have accumulated sediment as the entire block moves up and down. The boundaries between this sediment and any mountains sticking out of it have been marked as faults, but tracing them reveals that they're essentially round! (Older maps actually put a fault at the end of my street, thanks to this misinterpretation. Boy am I glad this is wrong!) Assumptions that faults sit in front of the mountains also don't quite work for pull-apart basins, since landslides roll off the mountains and cover the trace. There have been several incidents of people trenching the "fault" at the base of the mountain, coming up with nothing, and being happy with that answer. Sometimes, a landslide will re-expose a fault scarp, as with above Soboba Springs, and that scarp seems to slice the mountain almost through its middle. Smaller landslides also obscure several much larger ones that bound the basin; the small ones get mapped and the large ones don't, a "forest for the trees" scenario, to use our guide's term. Fortunately, now that the structure and function of pull-apart basins is better understood, maps can be corrected and updated to better represent the region and its underlying processes.

The final story is one of people building things in really stupid places. The active San Jacinto basin is full of houses, many quite new. They're slightly higher up than the San Jacinto river, but slightly isn't going to help, when the whole area is so much lower than everything around it. And it's not that this is a slow process, either! There are stories of houses that were built 50 years ago, carefully planned so that the high water mark was several feet below where the house stood. Recent floods have dumped four feet of water into those houses. Add in the landslides off the mountains and the being wedged between two strands of one of the most active faults in California, and you've got a big problem. We passed a bunch of houses on fault scarps on the course of this trip, though many of these houses looked older and fairly isolated, likely the personal decision of a landowner rather than a clueless developer. Crafton Hills, however, is a different story. Fault scarps serrate this landscape, and those scarps are liberally dotted with brand new development of large and presumably spiffy houses. There is no way these developments could fit in with Alquist-Priolo regulations, but there they are. Were those normal faults not evaluated as hazardous compared to nearby strike-slip faults? Did nobody bother to trench to begin with? Did the developers blatantly ignore the rules and warnings? I have no idea, but I know I wouldn't want to live there.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Geosong of the Week: The Little Girls' "Earthquake Song"

Uh. Yesterday was Monday, wasn't it? So much for remembering what day of the week it is over the summer! (Even with the two-day-out-of-seven breaks from model running...)

So you get a Tuesday song. Who decided Monday, anyway? WHO?

In honor of two-weeks-ago's earthquake, I think it's time for a Los Angeles Falling Into The Ocean song. There are a quite a lot of songs that fall into this category on the Playlist, and most of them are quite upbeat. The general consensus among the songs of the Playlist is that San Francisco must be saved and should be revered for persevering despite San Andreas' blows, but that the loss of Los Angeles will benefit the world at large. Also, the singers in the LA-based songs don't generally seem to give a crap that their city is falling down, while it is far more serious business for the SF songs. I think this ties into the whole SoCal Denial thing when it comes to nature, but that's a rant for another post.

This week's song may be one of the silliest on the list. I've mentioned it in this blog before, but I feel it deserves its own post, since it made me laugh so hard that I wheezed the first time I heard it. Despite its unoriginal title, "Earthquake Song," by The Little Girls, is a real gem.

The Little Girls are a pop/new wave band based in Santa Monica. They were popular in the 1980s for goofy novelty songs like this one, but their MySpace seems to indicate that they're still going strong as a group, and even have a new album out. "Earthquake Song" was on their 1983 release, "No More Vinyl." I don't know what time of year this came out, and I haven't googled up anything about the specific impetus for the writing of the song, so I'm not going to claim it's related to the 2 May 1983 Coalinga quake, nor a delayed reaction to the 1979 Imperial Valley quake. I'm just guessing that quakes on the news sparked this song, since they're not often discussed in the mainstream media unless one has just happened.

The music to this song is a classic example of a SoCal surf song. It has all the right driving guitar rhythms and riffs, drum punctuations, vocal harmonies, and backup/contrapuntal lines. If you weren't listening to the words, you might almost take it as a girl group covering a Beach Boys song. But because this music is so dead on to the genre, it allows the words to really shine in context.

Here are the lyrics in full:

There's gonna be an earthquake in this town
There will be houses falling down
The fire hydrants will blow up
The streets will crack
The pipes will pop

It's going kill my mom and dad
They are the only folks I had
But they better not blame me
'Cause it's not my fault

It's always fun living in L.A.
Always a good show on somewhere
What more can I say
There's gonna be an earthquake
I can't miss it, no way

I'm gonna run, run, run
We're having so much fun
'Cause there's a building chasing me
Smack, smack, I just fell in a crack
And now I'm gonna be debris.

There's going to be an earthquake in this town
The dogs are chasing their tails around
There's a buzzing in the air
Maybe I'll die, but I don't care
My surfboard's ready for the tidal wave
I'm gonna ride down Sunset like a Beach Boy today
I only hope I don't wipe-out in West L.A.

Yes, I enjoy living life this way
Always a good show on somewhere
What more can I say
It's gonna be an earthquake
I can't miss it, no way

I'm gonna run, run, run
We're having so much fun
There's a building chasing me
Jump up. Jump back
Break your mother's back
And we'll all fall in the sea

It's always fun living in L.A.
Always a good show on somewhere
What more can I say
It's gonna be an earthquake gonna get me
It's gonna be an earthquake gonna get me
It's gonna be an earthquake gonna get me today

Let us review:
Reference to LA treating nature as another showbiz spectacle that'll be out of the news as soon as the next celebrity dates someone new? Check.
Surfing the seismic waves and tsunamis? Check.
Reference to all kinds of earthquake foreboding myths? Check.
Reference to the actual Beach Boys? Check.
Falling into the ocean? Bring it on!
Pun on "fault"? Of course!

I also adore the part about "a building chasing me." It's such a silly mental image in and of itself, even without context, but it becomes more ridiculous when one considers how it's a cheery and blithe reference to outrunning buildings that have been shaken to the point of collapse. Apparently it's ok to discuss damage when it's worded in a silly way, but better not to address it directly until it happens...

Glaringly '80s video of a live performance of "Earthquake Song"

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Last Tuesday's 5.4

Wow, this is something I should've written about exactly a week ago! It may not suffice to say that I was so giddily excited about the earthquake that I couldn't sit down at my computer to spew text onto a single site for more than a few minutes, but yeah. I'm a week late - but I'm still excited about it! This was the largest earthquake I've felt thus far, and that was made more amusing by the fact that, six days earlier, I felt my smallest quake, a 2.6 on the San Jacinto Fault.

I was in the car for this one. I'd just finished buying some food and toys for the faultcats at Petsmart, and was going about 25 mph down the street. I saw that the light was red, so I went for the brake. As soon as my foot hit the pedal, the car wobbled from side to side. Since the wobbling was not yet continuous, I worried something was wrong with the brakes, so I started to push the button that brings up the display that supposedly tells me when something is wrong with the car. (I love how my car tells me when it needs work. Not that it has needed work yet. But!) As I was pushing the button, though, the side to side motion returned in an intensified state. A look around confirmed that street signs and trees were also all wobbly, and that was all the confirmation I needed for the cause of my car's wiggle. The light turned green at this point, so I turned the corner and went on my way, anxious to get home and check the USGS site for a magnitude and location. I figured it had to be at least in the mid 4s, since a car's shocks absorb smaller vibrations. I certainly did not expect 5.6, as the USGS text message said, though! By the time I got to the Did You Feel It page on the website, it was saying 5.8, and my jaw was further unhinging. Except by the time I finished filling out the form, it was down to 5.4. I admittedly felt a bit gipped out of that extra 0.4, but still was excited to the point of being giddy about the whole thing.

Now that I think about the feeling of it in the car, I'm sure I felt two separate wave arrivals. My initial thought was that these were P and S arrivals, but after talking about it with people in the lab at school, it doesn't make sense that the smaller vertical P-wave would be noticeable in a car with good shocks, at least not in a quake that wasn't epically huge. More likely, these were the arrivals of the S wave and the surface waves. Friends of mine who were stationary and in buildings at the time said they felt three separate pulses.

My computer, so it seems, also got a really good ride out of this earthquake. This was the first event of any significance since the Quake Catcher Network alpha test went online in the winter, and thus the first really solid test. According to the event-specific site, there were a bunch of laptops triggered, but three of them had clean and clear records. This says, of course, that more computers involved will mean more clean records on the whole, but it's also good for determining what might make noise on the record, and how to clean it up further.

That QCN worked so well is exciting in and of itself, and I was already giddy from the quake without the QCN factor, so imagine my excitement when I received an email on 30 July from the person heading the Stanford branch of QCN, stating that one of those three spotless clear records came from my own little laptop! That I got a decent recording makes sense - the computer was closed in a room where the cats could not get to it, and thus was only moved by the earthquake. But I have to say I am probably inordinately proud of my computer, since it is a machine and all, for making the top three.
The middle four seismograms came from my computer!

Since last Tuesday, there have been a bunch of little aftershocks that I did not feel. There was, however, a 3.0 on that part of the San Jacinto closest to my building. People outside of the building were definitely talking about it, but it seems like none of them reported it to the USGS, since there's no Did You Feel It map. I know I'm not the only one who felt it! Bah!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Geosong of the Week: High Country's "The Earthquake"

Even though I've only been playing bluegrass music for a little under a year, I have come to the understanding that it is never a bad idea, when writing a song, to kill off a character within said song, no matter how upbeat the actual music is. It's part of a sort of laughter-and-tears aesthetic that bluegrass shares with a lot of the Celtic music from which many tunes stem: perky fast music, casual wording, depressing substance.

Natural disasters are an obvious way to kill off characters, so I figured I would fire up Google in search of some earthquake bluegrass. And nearly immediately - perhaps because it is the title track of the album in question - High Country's "The Earthquake" turned up.

The lyrics are pretty much what I expected: a happy relationship is destroyed by the house falling on the girl. There is a good sense of the suddenness of the earthquake, though, since the singer keeps talking about how things were, but in the present tense - as if the quake hadn't happened - then juxtaposes the reality of the events against it by inserting a chorus. By the end of the song, the depth and severity of the situation has finally hit the singer, once his beloved has been buried. What I think is the best line of the song comes from this stanza:
"She's lyin' there alone at the mercy of nature, and I've never felt so helpless and small."
To have to put the body down in the earth, when the earth's own "misbehavior" is responsible for her death...that has to be a troublesome feeling. (Though, geek that I am, I couldn't hear this part without thinking to earlier in the verse, where he says she's buried at the foot of the mountain. "No!" I thought, "Don't put her there! Not on the fault scarp! No!")

I also really enjoy the music to this one. I listened to it a bunch of times and couldn't figure out the chords, which was both frustrating and exciting, since this one clearly deviates from the I-IV-V-I progression that's the backbone of so many songs in so many genres. The mystery chord turned out to be a flat III, and its presence made me inordinately happy. The melody that fits over these chords is also incredibly catchy. When I played this song for a friend of mine who happens to be an ethnomusicologist whose Master's thesis was on bluegrass, he immediately said it was a cool song, and I caught him humming it in the hallway a few days later. This song stands up on its own musically, with or without the earthquake factor. Excellent.

Remember last week, how I was saying that people in the mariachi band were threatening to make me sing "La falla de San Andrés"? Well, I still don't know if that's happening, but the bluegrass band I'm in (we're tentatively named Inland Wildfire) is definitely working on "The Earthquake," and yours truly is definitely the one singing it. Terrifying, yes? If we're ever in a position to record it, I most likely will inflict this one on my hapless readers...

But you should listen to the real version first. Here's High Country's Rhapsody page.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Where ATVs and Bruntons Meet

I haven't been to field camp, and I likely won't get to due to all of the academic catchup that comes with a major switch of fields this late in the game. I did get to take a field mapping course this past quarter, though, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it (I say almost, because the one day where it got up to 105 in the shade, and there wasn't any shade, was a bit intense). The professor outright asked me to take his class, never mind that I didn't have the prerequisite. The class involved ten days in the field, split between two different field areas in the Mojave Desert. Some of those trips were only for a single day - both areas were a nice hour and a half drive away from campus - but there were three full-weekend outings involved, which meant I still got some of the campfire conversation aspect of longer-term field camp.

Of the two field areas, I was particularly taken with the sedimentary-focused one. Mule Canyon is in the Calico Mountains, off the same freeway exit that takes you to Calico Ghost Town. The canyon exposes the bright greens, reds, yellows, and oranges of the Miocene Barstow Formation (though without the fossils, from what I understand), plus some younger caps of purple(!) extrusive volcanics. The name "Calico Mountains" explained itself right there. Mule Canyon ranks up among the most beautiful places I've ever visited, and I really enjoyed mapping it. To me, it was like a giant puzzle, only I had to walk on the pieces to match edges, rather than snapping everything together from one bird's eye view.

The colors of Mule Canyon. I really wish I'd taken a long panoramic shot of the whole place.

We were the only geology class out there for the six days we spent in Mule Canyon, but there was no shortage of other people. Mule Canyon is a popular spot for RVers, offroaders, and shooting enthusiasts. Mapping there was never quiet: there was constant engine noise, spatters of gunfire all too close to the actual mapped area, and one RV that seemed to be in the same spot playing the same Britney Spears CD on repeat for several of our visits. It was also never without its share of idiocy, mostly not on the part of our class: the first day we were there, some visitor had the brilliant idea to shoot across the road, and there were all kinds of incidents of people attempting to drive vehicles up hills that were entirely too steep and sandy to really be wise. (We had fun with this one. One night, well after dark, we saw ATV lights running across what was clearly our measured section - a high and narrow measured section, no less - so the professor led a charge toward them with flashlights. They proceeded to leave.)

But the Britney Spears, the ricochets, and the jeeps cutting back and forth across beds I was trying to map did not even come close to making the experience of mapping at Mule Canyon a bad one. It's too fantastic and fascinating of a place for that. (We only mapped the predominantly-homoclinal section of it. There are crazy folds all around that are absolutely worth going back for.) If anything, I pity the recreational users of that land, too busy putting bulletholes and tire tracks into the landscape to realize its beauty.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Faultcats Strike(-Slip) Back!

I really need to clean the piles of papers and books off my apartment floor. It doesn't help, however, that my cats tend to pull books off the bookshelf for fun. Andreas has, in this case, chosen some entirely too appropriate literature to pull down and sit on:

Garlock caught wind of this, and objected that the field guide in question does not represent his namesake. He made sure to show Andreas and I exactly where it ought to go on that map:

(This picture is not posed. Yes, I dropped the rubber band on the book, but that's only because I was sitting near the book in order to get pictures of Andreas sitting on the book. Garlock pulled the rubber band to that particular position all by himself. Smart kitty!)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Geosong of the Week: Kevin Johansen's "La Falla de San Andrés"

Sorry for the long hiatus, guys! (Is two weeks a long hiatus?) I was on the east coast visiting people that I pretty much only get to see twice a year, and this was not conducive to much internet time. Which was, probably, a good thing, but I still missed mah intarwebz. And now I am back in California and have more time on my hands, but also more geology to talk about, so I will try to be less dead.

But I will start back in with a song.

I have a friend in England who delights in sending me very strange music. One of the all-time strangest she's sent me is a Finnish humppa-rock song about a town where cows say cuckoo and cuckoos give milk. She's also sent me songs in Hungarian, Estonian, German, and Latvian. When I moved to California, though, she said she had the perfect song for me, in Spanish and English. The song in question is by a guy called Kevin Johansen, and it's called "La Falla de San Andrés." (Yes, there are a lot of SAF songs on this playlist.)

Kevin Johansen is Argentinian-American, was born in Alaska, and moved to Buenos Aires at the age of 12, but the gap between birth and that move was spent in the San Francisco Bay area. This gave him more than enough time, apparently, to pick up some seismic lore and plant the seeds for this song. It is not, however, a serious song about earthquake damage or the emotional impact thereof. Johansen instead opted for a type of lyrics that, from what I read, resonates well with the geoblogosphere: puns.

Yes, this is a song that is an elaborate setup for a dreadful geoscience pun in two languages.

No fue mi culpa esta vez! Fue la Falla de San Andrés!
This time it wasn't my fault! It was San Andreas' Fault!

What's not to love?
(I suspect this also works in other Romance languages. But definitely not German or Russian.)

As if this wasn't gloriously goofy enough, the story that leads up to the singer placing the blame on the Fault is punctuated by sound effects. My favorite, hands down, is when the singer describes the Earth opening up, and there's a creaky door noise; the other sound effects are equally ridiculous, in the best possible way.

The music itself is bouncy and Latin - a little bit mariachi, a little bit cumbia. One of the other people in the mariachi band at school thinks we should adapt this to be entirely mariachi, so we can play it with me singing. Yikes! If that happens, I will probably hide from the recording, if there is one.

Kevin Johansen, however, used to have a free MP3 of this song on his website. It no longer seems to be there, which makes me sad, because now it is harder to inflict the song on people. It is, at least, still on his Rhapsody page.
And here are the complete lyrics.