Archive for the ‘oakland hazards’ Category

The Oakland seismic landslide map

3 August 2011

A few years back, two guys at the U.S. Geological Survey did an exercise with a database that was subjected to a mathematical version of the Big One on the Hayward fault in the middle of the wet season. Their result was published as Miscellaneous Field Studies Map MF-2379, “Seismic Landslide Hazard for the Cities of Oakland and Piedmont, California.” Here’s a piece of it.

oakland landslide map

Dark-green areas are relatively fine, red areas are relatively awful, and the in-between colors are in between. Gray areas have slopes less than 5 degrees and don’t count. There’s a purple line running from top left to bottom right representing the Hayward fault; students of our street patterns may recognize the upper left corner as the intersection of 580 and 13. The lower right corner is 580 at the exit to the zoo. The left edge of the band of orange down the middle is Outlook Avenue. There are two bits of blue; the upper left one is the pond at Mills College and the lower one is the big hilltop reservoir near Toler Heights.

This map is of very little real use, because it’s just one worst-case scenario of one particular simulation, but it’s well worth studying anyway. (For real uses, like assessing your own property, you should hire a pro.) One big point is that bedrock matters. The big dark-green swath represents the solid metavolcanic rocks that are exposed in the Leona Quarry; they also underlie King Estates Open Space and part of the hill with the reservoir on top.

Oakland gets a (small) tsunami

18 March 2011

tsunamis

Oakland is fairly safe from tsunamis. Not as safe as San Ramon, but safer than most Pacific ports. First of all, we sit rather far from any dangerous subduction zones. When you track the subduction zones of the Pacific’s “ring of fire,” you get a continuous zone from Chile up to Puerto Vallarta, then jump to Cape Mendocino where the Cascadia subduction zone begins. We’re in between, and huge thrust-type quakes are not tectonically possible here.

A giant quake in Cascadia or the Aleutian Islands subduction zones would send waves down this way, possibly up to 2–3 meters high (this is the height out at sea; as they hit shore they would rise much higher). That’s where our second line of defense comes in: the Golden Gate. Anything coming through there would first be throttled by the narrow strait, then would spread out once it enters the bay. The people who prepared the Alameda County tsunami inundation maps also considered a few local extreme earthquakes that may have components of thrust. These could raise local tsunamis, but not of the horror-inducing size we saw in Japan.

I don’t want to minimize the possibilities, but the Sendai scenario cannot occur here. The harbor, however, is liable to damage even in a modest event, as we saw in Santa Cruz. Ships will bang into docks and each other; a less obvious hazard is that swift currents may pluck ships off their anchors and wash mud into our carefully dredged channels. You won’t want to go down to Jack London Square and watch if there’s a big local quake or a great event in Alaska or Cascadia. But last week would have been OK. Did anyone see the water there?

Water underground

4 January 2011

In today’s Chronicle, the Oakland writer Jon Carroll was musing about fire: “Usually it’s an obedient little creature, about the size of a cocker spaniel—until one day it turns into the largest, meanest cocker spaniel on Earth, and there goes the house.” Water, another of the four ancient elements, is the same way.

water main burst

Water is great in metered doses, delivered by tank and faucet. But “water dissolving, water removing” is no tamer than fire. Some time you should see firsthand what keeps it constrained: giant dams and stout mains, treatment plants, intricate feeder lines. The antique examples of dams and treatment facilities in Oakland are not the state of things today. Every now and then something breaks, like this line under Santa Clara Avenue in 2005, and a hint of chaos leaks out.

Last week a handyman had our water turned off for most of the day, with no word about when he would finish. As sunset approached we panicked enough to go out and buy 48 pounds of jugged water. But we didn’t need to use most of it. And so another bit of our earthquake preparedness is in place, a little lurch of progress. After the next big-enough one there will be water, water everywhere.

The ancients had a handle on things with their notion of four elements. Fire and water are worthy of the status, both full of motion and power. As for air, every weather report vouches for it. But it took someone more observant than most of us to see earth the same way and sum it all up as panta rhei, everything flows.

Drainage

18 December 2010

Oakland is a fine town unless it rains too much. Then we have to worry about all the water.

drainage

All things considered, Oakland’s landscape would prefer to be steep, forested hills raised by tectonics along the Hayward fault and gentle coastal plains that absorb the sediment washed off those hills. It’s a rich recipe that produces redwoods in the heights and forage and fruit in the vales. But with impervious roads and homes carpeting the upper slopes, we increase the runoff and undermine our own infrastructure. People like the homeowners above Broadway Terrace run flexible plastic lines over the edge of their properties to put the problem out of mind. But if you walk the road, you’ll find fresh gullies that will work their way uphill to the source of the problem regardless. Landslides will probably follow.

Seismic engineering at Kaiser Hospital

10 December 2010

Kaiser Permanente is building a new hospital complex at Macarthur and Broadway, including this structure. The design is intended to keep the hospital fully functional after a major earthquake.

seismic engineering

That explains the sturdy steel, but also note the number of diagonal braces.

seismic braces

These braces are not rigid, the way they are in scaffolding. Instead, they are built like pistons, with the ends allowed to move inside the sleeve. They absorb energy and help damp the structure against rhythmic shaking that can destroy it. They deform to help save the rest of the framework. That way, after the quake they can be swapped out to make the building as good as new. Read more at this manufacturer’s site, for example. If you’re passing by the hospital (or any construction site, for that matter), take a look.

The big earthquake will probably cause cosmetic damage to the outside of the building, and some broken windows and so on. The hospital as a working institution, though, will not just endure but keep on saving lives without interruption. This is a big deal, and all of California’s hospitals are following suit to meet the state’s deadline of 2030 (see the pamphlet “California’s Hospital Seismic Safety Law” for details).

Ruins

7 July 2010

As you explore Oakland, you come upon places where something has been erased and not yet replaced.

oakland hills fire

The Oakland Hills fire of October 1991 left these, the first on Acacia Avenue and the other two on Roble Road.

oakland hills fire

There must be reasons for each of these remaining ruins after almost twenty years. But here they are, some quite public and others in quiet privacy. People pass and pay them no mind. Another few decades and the traces might be gone.

oakland hills fire

I got an odd request last year: Henry K. Lee, author of Presumed Dead, asked me to visit the spot in the Oakland Hills where a notorious murderer put the body of his victim. He wanted to know how a geologist would describe the ground there. It was shale, crumbling and easily dug. The place was shrouded in oak woods, but everyday life was within earshot: lawn equipment whining, bicyclists conversing, dogs. The site—which I will not call a grave—was still being visited. But its traces should be left to vanish.

Living on Bay mud

27 March 2010

The Tidewater district is the nose of land west of the freeway at the end of the channel between Oakland and Alameda:

tidewater liquefaction map

Right now it’s totally industrial, but landowners there want to open it up to residential uses, like the cozy parts of Alameda right across the channel. (Easy to catch up with the news by googling “oakland tidewater industrial“.)

I’m showing this image to point out a geological aspect to the zoning proposal. The map is a portion of the state’s official map of landslide and liquefaction potential, and it’s clear that this low-lying piece of mostly filled swampland is one of Oakland’s worst places in a large earthquake. Just saying.


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