Tag Archives: earthquakes

all shook up

Visitors to this part of the UCSD campus won’t forget that California is Earthquake country. Set at the edge of a walkway next to the landscaping are these pillars that have undergone simulated tremors on a jumbo shake table that can deliver a massive series of movements emulating the Big One.

Another hint that this is California lies in the fact that these are pillars modeled on those that keep our freeways high in the air. The structures lab here has worked with transportation agencies to try to develop safer structural components for bridges and overpasses.

During severe shaking the tremendously strong yet fragile concrete disintegrates, leaving the supporting steel which has flexibility but comparatively little strength to keep structures aloft. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near a freeway with compromised supports like this.

The solution the structural engineers came up with is to wrap the columns in a material that bandages the concrete and keeps it from pulverizing into gravel. It almost seems too obvious a thing to do, but it looks like it really works when you compare these two pillars to the first ones I showed.

So, here in the middle of clipped hedges and mounds of orange lion’s tail, you have these six pillars, standing around like decaying Grecian columns or remnants of a garden folly in an Eighteenth-Century English garden.

Temple of Harmony SE Facade

This image is of the Temple of Harmony, a folly on the grounds of Halswell House, Goathurst, Somerset, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons. (Image by Stronach, released to the public domain. Thank you Stronach!) Even though it’s far from this land with the shakes the Temple apparently has some trouble standing up. The Wikipedia description states that “it now has the addition of a tie bar, a long retaining bolt that runs through the structure from one side to the other, helping to keep it together.”

Maybe the Halswell Park Trust could take a clue from the clever Californians and wrap the Temple in fiberglass, though, yeah, it might look a little more like the work of Christo than that of Thomas Prowse, its original architect…

just a small tsunami

When word hit that the tsunami generated by the huge Sendai Earthquake would be hitting San Diego by 9:00 a.m. yesterday morning we took notice. When the size of what we were likely to experience was predicted to be only in the two to three foot range, it motivated John and me to do a bit of disaster tourism by heading for the water.

I suppose our motivation was a bit like a child’s playing with plastic dinosaurs–small, safe versions of big scary things. We could experience something far-away and fearsome with minimal risk. It could put us in touch with things of this world that evoke fear and awe. Where we went, to the base of the Crystal Pier in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of town, we encountered one or two dozen people doing exactly the same thing.

Over the course of an hour the water rose and withdrew twice. It happened fairly quickly, but the effects were pretty subtle, so subtle that I might be overreacting and calling the normal tidal changes tsunamis. I’m fairly certain it was more than normal tidal motion, however, partly because the changes coincided almost exactly with the time the forecasters predicted the surge would hit.

Down at the water’s edge I was strafed by this sand grader more than once. This is a highly groomed beach.

Reminders that seaweed and other unpleasant things grow in the water aren’t welcome here. The tourists don’t like to step on the stuff. The locals don’t like the smell. So out comes this machine, like some sort of giant beach zamboni, keeping the sand free from nature.

It reminded me that my knowledge of local green things pretty much stops at the water line, even though there’s a rich and strange world not far from where I stood. The common seaweed is properly an algae, not a plant, but there are several marine grasses that call the ocean home.

I think this is one of the surfgrasses, Phyllospadix spp. The leaves are strong and stringy to stand up to the constant motion of the water.

But beyond that, I just have a general notion of what’s out there. The sea remains a dangerous mystery.

Hmmm…maybe the local native plant society needs to host a native plant swim instead of a hike…


Boy was that a shaker… 6.9 on the Richter scale, centered about 120 miles away. The one that devastated Haiti recently at 7.0 was just a tad stronger, but fortunately ours struck in the sparsely populated desert in Northern Baja. [ Edit, 5:12 p.m.: The quake was upgraded to a 7.2. ]

This was just a little over half an hour ago and it brought the neighborhood outdoors. Some people were actually outdoors because they didn’t feel safe inside with the shaking. Others were out to talk to the others. “Did you feel it?” everyone was asking. We all knew the answer but it felt like we needed to be outside to decompress. We were hoping nobody got injured.

I was back in my studio, working on an image in Photoshop. As the shaking got worse I decided it’d be prudent to dive under the desk as my little desktop speakers toppled. When I got up I checked the ugly back-of-the-fireplace wall I’m still trying to decide what to do with. Part of it is unreinforced brick, so a strong local jolt would probably bring part of it down. This shaker was far enough away it didn’t happen. Darn.

Oh we just had a little aftershock, a 5.1, 90 miles away. And yes, the ugly wall is still standing.