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Emily Del Real

February 11, 2010

UWP 19

Professor Dale Flynn

Interview Assignment

Preparing For the Next Big One

Earthquakes are making international headlines today. From the major earthquake

that hit Haiti a few weeks ago to the minor earthquake experienced in Chicago yesterday,

it’s important to understand this phenomena and how to best prepare for one. Why?

Because California is the most populous state in the country and located right on top of

the San Andreas fault—which is dangerous earthquake territory. The U.S. Geological

Survey predicts that there is a 70 percent chance that another major earthquake will hit

northern California by the year 2030. Dr. Gry Barfod is a geologist and professor at UC

Davis. She completed her undergraduate and graduate work at the University of

Copenhagen, where she received a Ph.D. in Geochronology. In my interview with her,

she offered some helpful advice on what to do when the big earthquake hits California,

where you want to be, and what places might be the most dangerous. She also offered

some startling information: the longer an earthquake takes to strike, the higher its

magnitude. Also, some earthquakes in the past were actually caused by humans. !!!

We sat down in her office after lecture and discussed earthquakes and what

happens during an earthquake. I asked her specific questions: If an earthquake was to hit

California, under the San Andreas fault, what places might be more safe? Which places

might be more dangerous? What if the earthquake had a magnitude of 8.0? First of all,
she said the safest place you can be in is a basement. “Actually,” she continued, “you

want to be on granite [and] solid rock. You want to stay away from the bay because it will

set off a tsunami. Any place with a large body of water, like a lake, may be dangerous.

Take Lake Tahoe, for instance. Lake Tahoe has little plates running underneath.” To

understand Earth’s plates, you can imagine the Earth as a giant egg, and we—along with

the mountains, canyons, and oceans—are standing on its crust (or shell). About 60 miles

underneath the crust is the mantle. This mantle has cracks all around it, just like an

eggshell might have. Each crack represents a different plate, or a piece of a puzzle, that

makes up the whole of the Earth’s surface. California is located on a boundary of two

major plates. When friction occurs, rocks underneath may rub against each other, which

sends out energy waves to the ground. We feel these energy waves on the crust, and this

is what we call an earthquake. I asked Dr. Barfod if it’s safer to be inside a building

during an earthquake. She replied, “You definitely do not want to be near a big building.

If you are inside a building, however, you want to hide underneath something. You want

to be under a solid structure to protect yourself from shattering glass.” I asked her what

places in California are safer from the in an earthquake, and she replied, “You want to be

in places that have high elevation.”

I asked her what would happen to the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge. The

Bay Bridge is in danger because it lies on wet sediment. The Golden Gate Bridge, on the

other hand, is safer because it’s sitting on solid rock and it would take a lot of

shockwaves to shake it off its foundation. What about any places in California that show

evidence of major earthquake damage? Dr. Barfod replied, “Point Reyes is a good place

to start. You’ll see evidence everywhere [where the plates have moved apart][you leave
me hanging here—will Point Reyes fall into the sea?]. Also the Sierra Nevada mountains

is an interesting place to study.”

The next answers to my next questions startled me. I asked Dr. Barfod if she

thinks an earthquake will occur by the year 2030. She replied that she did, but also that

the sooner the earthquake hits, the better. I asked her why, and she replied, “Rocks

underneath the crust are constantly in friction and rubbing against each other. The longer

[this happens] the more energy is building up inside.” Sooner or later, this built up energy

will erupt and release fromout the ground as huge shockwaves which that will reverberate

throughout the cities.

This got me thinking, that if it’s safer for an earthquake to occur sooner rather

than later (because of less energy accumulated underneath), can’t we just cause one?

“Yes, humans can cause earthquakes,” Dr. Barfod affirmed, and in fact, atomic bombs

have caused earthquakes in the past. Also, seismologists will set off bombs in remote

areas to measure the seismic waves. “So the interesting thing is, whenever there’s an

earthquake, there will be controversy surrounding it. We can never know if it’s a natural

occurrence or seismologists setting off a bomb somewhere.”

Before the interview was over, Dr. Barfod gave me a list of earthquake experts

who work at UCD in case I wanted to interview them. A helpful website, she added, “Is

the ABAG [Association of Bay Area Governments]. There are helpful tips on how to

survive an earthquake.”


Very interesting. You chose a good interviewee, it sounds like. I would

scrap the last paragraph because it doesn’t add anything for the
reader. Take a look at the other places I’ve marked.
Points: 135