26 March 2011

Shake, rattle, and roll...to scale

Last week was spring break here in Madison, WI.  It’s been a while since I took part in the annual mass exodus, but I decided to take advantage of the time off, pack up, and get out of Dodge for a few days.  My destination was chilly, drizzly Seattle for an in-person crash course about the study of earthquakes and their associated dangers in the Puget Sound area.  I also went out to meet some of the people—both professional scientists and volunteer citizens—who are helping this effort along.

Spring Break 2011!  Downtown Seattle as seen from West Seattle across Elliott Bay.
The timing of my trip during the week after Japan’s subduction-related magnitude 9.0 Tohuku earthquake and the resulting tsunami, and not long after a shallow crustal temblor hit Christchurch, NZ, was purely coincidental.  It did, however, provide an engaging, albeit tragic, backdrop for discussing earthquake hazards in the area and individual motivations for contributing to the study of these hazards.  The susceptibility of the Puget Sound to both of these types of earthquakes, as well as to large deep earthquakes such as the 2001 Nisqually quake, and the parallels to these recent events is not lost on many in the region.

12 March 2011

A Whale (Shark) of a Mystery

If you have ever sat through Jaws or watched Discovery Channel’s annual lovefest, perhaps you have imagined your reaction at the sight of a massive shark heading straight for you.  Worse still, perhaps you have imagined yourself among a swirling frenzy of sharks, each awaiting its shot.  I have imagined this.  Between the dolphin-pitch squeaks of terror and a soiled wetsuit, it’s not a pretty picture.

As one approaches, I remember the advice I heard somewhere…go for the eyes and snout.  Stick and move!

Before I can lift a finger to fend it off, though, the moment passes by with little more than a glancing nudge from an animal whose front-end looks something like a 1990s Honda Civic.

Whale shark, Rhincodon typus (image from Wikimedia Commons).

Oh, PHEW!  It’s a whale shark frenzy I’m imagining, not one of their toothier cousins.