25 October 2014
Havenscourt Boulevard is a handsome street—wide, with a row of large palms up one side and offering nice views of the Seminary gap and the low and high hills. Then there are the homes, where I spotted this creative use of a roof drain.
The water runs down a chute to a stilling basin, where it gently wells over the rim and waters the lawn. And the structure is outfitted with miniature buildings and picturesque rocks in a nice example of the Chinese art of penjing.
Penjing is related to the Japanese art of suiseki, but is not as abstract. Instead of suggesting ideal forms through the prism of naturally formed stones, penjing uses stones and models to depict landscapes, more or less fantastic, in miniature scale. It can range from kitschy to sublime. This example is what I would call homey, and very Oakland.
17 October 2014
Yesterday I attended the Loma Prieta 25 Symposium at the Kaiser Center. It was a quake geek’s Woodstock, where a motley host of experts got together to schmooze, celebrate 25 years of progress since the 1989 earthquake, and look ahead. At 10:16 a.m., along with 27 million other people around the world, we participated in the ShakeOut drill.
Since the Loma Prieta earthquake, Caltrans has finished reinforcing all of the state’s freeway overpasses, EBMUD and Hetch Hetchy have strengthened their principal water mains where they cross the Hayward fault, BART has strengthened its tracks and stations, and PG&E has made huge changes to make the power and gas system more robust. The airports and ports have been upgraded. The big bridges have been fixed or replaced (with only the Golden Gate Bridge upgrade to go).
The work done since Loma Prieta has also made governments work better. The mayor of Napa, Jill Techel, had high praise for the city, county and state emergency service agencies. She said PG&E did a wonderful job during the August earthquake. The federal agency FEMA was on top of things too. And the regional authority ABAG, the main sponsor of the symposium, was charged with energy and ideas to piggyback on the public awareness that followed the Napa quake.
Magnitude-6 events like the Napa earthquake will happen 10 times as often as the “big ones” we’re warned against. Even if the big ones will surely overwhelm some aspect of our preparations, the mitigation and preparedness in place can work wonders with the smaller events like the Napa quake.
The next steps that the experts laid out, the things they want done by Loma Prieta 50, involve increasing the Bay area’s resilience to disasters. Resilience means that people will not just avoid death and injury from a major earthquake, they’ll stay in their homes and return to their jobs quickly. The work of upgrading the infrastructure needs to move beyond the backbones to the limbs and arteries: neighborhood water and gas lines, smaller bridges, individual privately owned buildings. Oakland is ready to begin a program aimed at some 1800 soft-story residences in the city. The state’s earthquake insurance chief and the state senator heading the Insurance Committee were there to describe the advances they want to make in 2015. Progress works this way: inch by inch and year by year.
9 October 2014
The little town of Emeryville has almost no geology that passers-by would recognize. On the geologic map it’s displayed as largely artificial land and coastal alluvium.
The only people who see these things are builders and the geological professionals who advise them with their foundations.
The point was made from scratch—the original shore was a straight line pretty much where the railroad is now. Out at the end it’s been prettied up into Marina Park, a simulacrum of a wooded meadow. I like it there.
A seawall, made of typical Franciscan riprap, protects it from the mild surf that manages to get here through the Golden Gate.
The park-y part of Marina Park offers great views of Berkeley and points north. This is a good place to test your knowledge of the geography: Can you point out Strawberry Canyon, for instance. The highest point in this picture is Grizzly Peak.
We aren’t making any more artificial land in the Bay area, thank goodness. For a while there, people were planning to fill the whole Bay in. The nice thing about artificial land is that we can feel free to decorate it, whether formally as here or informally as at the Albany Bulb.
26 September 2014
The southern edge of the Piedmont Pines neighborhood butts against Joaquin Miller Park, and there’s no reason to visit if you don’t happen to live there—except if you like serpentinite. The street named Las Aromas dips into the belt of serpentinite that extends up and over the ridge to Serpentine Prairie, and the rock type is well exposed. One resident has done a lot of landscaping in this inhospitable rock type.
The scaly structure is typical of serpentinite, and here it’s fairly close to the Hayward fault. Farther uphill is this exposure, where the grain of the rock is parallel to the street.
Its blue-green color is striking. And there are a few spots where friction in the recent geologic past has turned it glossy. The rocks aren’t as spectacular as Serpentine Prairie itself, but they’re still noteworthy.
I never tire of our state rock. Speaking of Serpentine Prairie, today on KQED Science there’s a story on the ongoing effort to propagate the rare Presidio Clarkia. (I photographed it a few years ago before they fenced off the area.)
8 September 2014
In the days since the South Napa earthquake of 24 August, the people and press appear to be astonished as the local streams have filled with water. The Chronicle published a good summary yesterday. But this always happens with a decent-sized earthquake. It will happen here. You can expect to see this stretch of Arroyo Viejo, in the middle of Hegenberger Expressway, full of freshly released groundwater.
There were widespread reports of this kind in 1857, after the the great Fort Tejon earthquake of 9 January:
On a range of hills, about fifteen miles from the coast, in the district of San Fernando, we understand that a surveying party have discovered quite a large stream making out of the mountain and down a cañon, where, to their knowledge and complete satisfaction, not to say to their sorrow, no water was running or could be found previous to the earthquake. By the letter from Tejón, it will be seen that a similar circumstance occurred in that vicinity. Los Angeles Star, 17 January 1857
Just back of my camp was the dry bed of a stream, where in heavy rains water had at one time run; in this bed two weeks before I had sunk a well some 20 feet hoping to find water, but at that depth the earth was so dry I gave it up as fruitless. Two days after the first or heavy shock a little stream of muddy water was running by my camp which continued to increase each day, until when we moved was quite a little rivulet: no doubt the result of some new fissure in the mountain. Letter of W. E. Greenwell, U.S. Coast Survey, 24 February 1857
The effect upon some of the artesian wells in this neighborhood was remarkable: for a moment the water ceased to flow from the pipes, and then gushed out in greater volume and with more power than usual; we have heard that the channels of other wells, which had become obstructed, and ceased to discharge water, have become re-opened and the subterranean current is now flowing out from the orifice. San Jose Telegraph, 13 January 1857
The water goes away after a few weeks. UCB geologist Michael Manga explained the phenomenon in a talk I attended in May of last year: The shaking settles the bedrock, which in turn forces the groundwater it contains upward. In effect, the rock’s permeability in the vertical direction increases as a result of basement consolidation. This is the same basic mechanism that creates quicksand. Studies after the 1999 Taiwan (Chi-Chi) earthquake showed that this water would be replaced in about 140 years—which is coincidentally the average interval between large quakes on the Hayward fault in the last thousand years. The effect takes place within a rupture length of the fault—that accounts for the response of wells in San Jose to a Southern California earthquake whose rupture ran about 360 kilometers, from Parkfield to Cajon Pass.
5 September 2014
I’ve been walking around town a lot this year, and our perennial streams still have running water even in the third year of severe drought. If we still had any natural lakes, I think they’d be suffering, just like our reservoirs. But we don’t. Whatever else happens, we have Lake Merritt.
Lake Merritt isn’t like other lakes: it’s an arm of the Bay. So let’s relish our luck and make the most of our inexhaustible, droughtproof “lake.”
3 September 2014
I’m attending the Third International Conference on Earthquake Early Warning, which is happening at UC Berkeley through Friday. It’s a lively gathering of specialists and officials from earthquake country all over the world. What’s galvanizing everybody is the possibility of dramatic progress in California, now that the government has passed a law that establishes a statewide early-warning system modeled on ShakeAlert, which has been quietly beta testing for more than two years.
It came up during discussion today that the West Coast has five of America’s largest seaports, and a major earthquake that disables one or more of them will affect not just the nation’s, but the entire world’s economy. OK: the West Coast has three areas that produce major earthquakes. Ours, the Bay area’s part of the San Andreas fault complex, is the least of them. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake (M 7.8) and the similarly large 1868 Hayward quake? Those are our signature quakes, and we’re third on the list. Southern California is capable of larger ones (M 8), and Cascadia, which reaches from Cape Mendocino up past the Canadian border, produces the largest quakes by far (M 9).
A Big One that knocks out Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors will not affect Oakland. Neither will the Monster One that disables Seattle, Tacoma and Portland. Oakland Harbor will be the backup port of call after either of those events. And of course they’ll share the load if we’re out of action.
In any case, Oakland Harbor is a natural facility for using an early-alert system. So is Oakland Airport—imagine an alert coming in to the control tower that strong shaking will arrive in 20 seconds. This is exactly the kind of rapid decision-making information that the airline community is trained to respond to already. I foresee our airport and our port being early early-warning adopters. BART is already part of the ShakeAlert beta testing network. Watch those guys.