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!