Saturday, September 6, 2008

SCEC Day One

I have been entirely absent for the last week and a half in order to get things together for my first ever geo conference. Models had to be run, figures had to be made, and posters had to be assembled. But all came off well, and I am currently at that conference! I'm planning on making daily posts to summarize what's going on. I'll try to get back to the songs next week!

The Southern California Earthquake Center's annual meeting is part conference (mostly posters, but a bunch of talks, too) and part organizational meeting to discuss the organization's scientific goals and progress. There are only about 500 people here, so it's certainly no AGU, but that's probably a good thing for a newbie's first conference.

This meeting happens to be in Palm Springs. Were it winter, this would be fantastic, but considering it is September, it's a monumentally bad idea. Here's why:

Aaand it was 111 today. I guess their reasoning must be that, if you're going to be studying earthquakes and faults in southern California, you'd better get used to baking in the desert. Perhaps this is also their reasoning for holding all the meals outdoors - just like field work, right?

I think this might also be a factor in the decision to have the conference at this particular hotel, though:

This is basically the most appropriate street name for a conference on California earthquakes EVAR. Unlike the Andreas Avenue in San Bernardino, though, this one is actually a good five miles away from the fault.

There was only one actual session's worth of science today. This was the first part of the Extreme Ground Motion focus group's report. Their work over the past few years has been focused on Yucca Mountain. This is a site in the middle of the Nevada desert that is a possible repository for a frightening amount of nuclear waste. The site is also on the edge of the caldera of an extinct volcano, and is sliced by a series of normal faults. It does not take a scientist to realize that large earthquakes plus nuclear waste cannot equal anything good. SCEC's ExGM group has been working to determine how serious the seismic threat there actually is. So far, the conclusion seems to be that the probability of ground motion strong enough to release the radioactive material is incredibly low. The faults in question show only several hundredths of a millimeter of motion per year, and are all relatively short. There are cliffs and mountain faces that have also been dated to show that they haven't moved much in the past million years, or even since the Miocene, when they formed. There are pack rat middens that are thousands of years old and still in place, suggesting no strong ground motion within that span. One paper also looked at pore structure in sedimentary components of Yucca Mountain, noting that laboratory-induced strong motion crushes the pores to a certain shape that cannot be restored, and the rock at the mountain does not show this crushing, indicating that there has been no extreme ground motion there since the deposition of these units. I get the impression that, even though the threat is not as high as initially thought, the group still doesn't want the waste dumped at Yucca Mountain, though. Can't blame them for that!

At dinner, I finally got to meet the guy whose dynamic code I'm using for my models; it was cool to talk to someone with whom I had only interacted by email thus far. I also met someone from USGS Menlo Park who just plain didn't believe me when I told her this was my first conference, because she was sure she'd seen me somewhere before. We concluded it could've been a random run-in in Parkfield or something. She also mentioned that the Menlo Park seismic imaging group will be doing some work down by the Salton Sea next year, for which they would like to have students help out. Apparently, explosives are involved. Playing with explosives for science? As a Mythbusters fan, how could I not turn down that opportunity?!

The shower in my hotel room has a temperature gage with degrees Fahrenheit on the knob. Out of curiosity, I tried to set it to what today's air temperature was, and it turned out I couldn't do so without pushing the big red Super Duper Hot button. Bad sign! I did not push the button. I will continue to delight in the fact that the AC makes it pretty cold in my room. And now I sleep - field trip in the morning!

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