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.