The Hayward Fault -- Exposed! (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 29 Apr 2006

The Hayward Fault -- Exposed!

Today was opening day for the Hayward fault!

Well, okay, the fault itself has been there a while, but it was opening day for the Hayward Fault: Exposed! exhibit in Fremont. They've dug a trench into the Hayward fault as part of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Centennial activities, so people can walk a stairway and stand right in a fault and see what it looks like.

I'm a volunteer docent for the exhibit: one of the people who help answer questions about the fault, the trench, and earthquakes in general, and who also help with details such as setup, safety, and getting people to sign the liability waiver as they enter the exhibit. (My photos and fault facts here.)

Opening day was a bit hectic even aside from the usual opening-day flutters because it was a big day in Fremont Central Park: there was a huge manga festival at the Teen Center right next to the fault trench, complete with live band all day, and over at Lake Elizabeth at the other end of the park was the annual "Splashdown" rubber ducky race.

We expected chaos. But we didn't get it: everything went surprisingly smoothly. We got lots of visitors who were there specifically to see the fault, not just spillover from the other events: apparently it had gotten press on the TV news and several newspapers. There may also have been word of mouth advertising: a surprising number of the visitors I talked to were CERT volunteers or otherwise actively involved in bay area disaster preparedness programs. They were already very well informed about seismic hazards and earthquakes, and eager to see the fault for themselves.

We ended up with about 600 visitors (perhaps a fourth to a third of them teens from the manga festival). Everyone was very well behaved, asked good questions and seemed to appreciate the exhibit. It's lovely to volunteer at exhibits where you spend all your time answering questions, chatting with people and explaining the exhibit, not worrying about policing people and enforcing rules.

(Well, maybe there was a little bit of chaos. The band at the manga festival included karaoke. It's not every day that one gets the opportunity to try to explain paleoseismology and radiocarbon dating while someone a few feet away is belting out "Bohemian Rhapsody" over a loudspeaker but forgetting the words.)

We were pleased to see that everyone spent a lot of time around the (excellent) poster displays from the USGS, which cover everything from earthquake preparedness to stratigraphy of this particular trench to geologic maps of the Hayward fault and the bay area. Most people missed the parking lot displays on the way in (a sign pointing to cracks in the pavement and an offset curb, highlighted with orange spray paint), but we told them what to look for so they could catch them on the way out.

The exhibit will get more press tonight: two or three different TV channels showed up today and interviewed Heidi Stenner, the USGS geologist organizing the exhibit, as well as some of the visitors. So with any luck we'll continue to get good turnouts. The trench will be open through the end of June.

Most of the other docents are either seismologists or seismology graduate students. It wasn't a problem: the questions most people were asking were straightforward questions I could answer easily. But it was fun listening to the other docents and learning from them, and when someone asks a tricky question, you sure can't beat being able to turn to the researcher who did the original study on this trench in 1987 (Jim Lienkaemper) and get the straight scoop! (He also developed the USGS Virtual Tour of the Hayward Fault web site).

The Hayward fault last let go in 1868, a magnitude-6.9 event called "The Great San Francisco Quake" until the 1906 earthquake on the San Andreas took over that title. Trench studies like Lienkaemper's have shown that historically this fault has a large earthquake every 130 to 150 years. Our visitors didn't need a calculator to do the math.

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[ 22:46 Apr 29, 2006    More science/geology | permalink to this entry ]