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!