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Andrew Alden

The Day I Watched California Shaking

By February 4, 2013

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Ron Schott, an excellent member of the online geology community, challenged his cohort for Accretionary Wedge #41 to "relate the story of the most memorable or significant geological event that you've directly experienced."

Geology is everywhere, but geological events are uncommon because Earth really takes its time. I've felt plenty of earthquakes, so even the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, memorable as it was, was just a larger example of something familiar. I've seen lots of volcanoes, but none of them, not even Kilauea, was doing anything when I was there. I've seen a thousand landslides, but never one in progress. I've inspected the wave-scoured walls of Lituya Bay, Alaska, where the world's greatest tsunami occurred in 1958, but the occasion was in 1976. I've seen Old Faithful erupt—but no offense, who hasn't?

Some of my stickiest memories involve human practices related to geology. A few months ago, for instance, I got to spend time in the clangorous presence of Yuba Gold Dredge 17. I also remember the press conference in 2007 that first displayed the precious cores of rock retrieved from the San Andreas fault nearly 3 kilometers underground.

pieqfBut this contraption was probably the coolest of all. It was an artwork installed in Parkfield, on the San Andreas fault, in the summer and fall of 2008 called the Parkfield Interventional EQ Fieldwork. It was, in effect, a robot built to do interpretive dancing based on California's vibrations. It consisted of a motorized platform covered with steel wands, in a shallow pit with sculpted earthen banks. The motors were driven in response to seismic noise; that is, it served as a seismic amplifier for the whole state of California. I stopped by on my way to Las Vegas in late October and had the work all to myself. It muttered and hummed, awaking to a slow rattling ripple whenever I stamped on the geophones planted nearby. I stayed and let my mind expand across California and deep into its lithosphere, but after an hour or so, no large earthquake had occurred in the state—just a bit of mumbling. Too bad; I would have been there when it happened. Then I got lunch at the nearby Parkfield Cafe, where I stuck my business card on the wall next to Susan Hough's, and was on my way.
PIEQF — Geology Guide photo — first posted 30 Dec 2011


December 30, 2011 at 11:24 pm
(1) Lin Kerns says:

Hi Andrew,

I thoroughly enjoy your site and read everything you post. Excellent scope of work!

Just wanted to add that I experienced the Hector Mine Quake in California and loved it. People were heading outside their houses, and I was quake surfing and excited as a person can get. Truly an awesome experience for someone who currently lives in the New Madrid Fault Zone.

January 2, 2012 at 5:41 am
(2) D. H. Langenfeld says:

Greetings Andrew, in the hope that your New Year was a delight to last the year round.

Thank you for bring geology to the fore, for so many! Keep up the great good work.

Being a mostly retired geologic detective with time on my hands, I saw the most astounding meteoritic event ever, in my backyard.

At O-Black Hundred I was looking at the NE sky when one and then another inbound Meteor lit briefly and extinguish.

Wow I thought that’s two in under thirty seconds I wonder if The Perseid are cranking in; as the trajectories were close, and that dim green light just before extinction really interesting!

Then the most astounding thing happened, a Meteor went from lower to higher elevation, almost on the same track where the two inbounders had just come in! What in heaven is going on here? Am I looking at outbounder; that can’t be. Then another went up doing almost the same thing but curved sharply as it extinguished!

Realizing I had a front row seat for something wonderous and unique within the expanding field of meteoritics, and confused I got horrizontal; it wasen’t a Howardite but oh what a night, in Wisconsin in August, and yes I had my glass

In time it became clear that our old friends The Chimney Swifts were dining on the very last of a few Fire Fly’s!

Here Swifts were serving as very cool biogenic light amplifyers, in that once caught up in a crushing action the Fire Fly ignited a dim green photonic release, as the Swifts streaked through the night.

So much for Ni cooking off inbounders in the night!

January 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm
(3) Elba Kunsman says:

I was traveling east on I90 late at night through the Cascade Mountains. Looking through the window I noticed snow on the ground, but thought to myself we were too low and it was too early in the year for snow. We stopped the car and got out to look.

It was late summer of 1980. I think you can guess what it was. I get goosebumps just thinking of the several inches (inches!) of ash on the ground this far away from Mount St. Helens.

I didn’t get to see the event that caused this. But seeing the aftermath was exciting.

Thank you for this site. Ever since I took a geology class at Clark CC in Vancouver, WA, I have been fascinated with this subject. (I wish I could remember the instructor’s name. She was incredible.)

Elba Kunsman

January 3, 2012 at 2:14 pm
(4) Hank Mentink says:

There is an on-going landslide at Portuguese Bend, Palos Verdes Hills, California. It is currently in motion, although it is slow motion, it is moving every day. There are houses riding the slide; survivor houses have floating foundations. Interesting place to drive or hike.

January 5, 2012 at 10:50 am
(5) m. nejad says:

Actually I am a geologist lover, i enjoy reading your newsletter, as the given articles are informatics and simple for all the levels. All the best

February 4, 2013 at 9:57 am
(6) Barry McMullan says:

Too many to pick one. Came up with a list of over 20 memorable geological moments. A few are:Finding limestone caverns in Da Krong Valley of Vietnam, 1968. Seeing some sort of heavenly body explode while camping in Colorado Mts., 1976. Finding moving rocks in Railroad Valley, NV, 1990. Rescuing a slide of moon rock in souvenirs being given to whomever after distinguished Professor died in Maryland, 1970s. Being at ground zero of a mine collape that produced a 5.0 earthquake in Wyoming, 1990. Tour of Homestakes Gold Mine before it closed, down to around 8,000 feet.

February 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm
(7) Geology Guide says:

Barry, you have the beginnings of your own blog right there.

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