The geologist in me

… always wanted to live in CA, I believe.

Earthquakes have strangely fascinated me since my first geography class in 5th grade, so I chose Geography as my Leistungskurs in 12th grade and later went on to University to study Geography. By lucky coincidence, and I say that with still a tiny bit of regret that I didn’t get to go to New England for my exchange semester, I landed right in the heart of “earthquake country” California.

Not surprisingly, I ended up writing my master thesis about the San Andreas Fault System.

People always ask me what it’s like to live with the fear of an earthquake happening where I live. First I would like to say that earthquakes don’t happen that often. Oh wait, let me rephrase that. They do happen on a daily basis, and on average there are more than 10 earthquakes every day, but they usually are too small for people to even feel them and are only detected by seismographs.
I have only experienced three earthquakes in my life, two of which – and you will find that funny – happened in Germany, and they were not particularly scary. Short rattling of the furniture, nothing more.

Even though earthquakes can be felt where I live, the big fault systems of California are further away toward the coast and I am in the lucky position of being a “close observer”, but at the same time taking comfort in the safety of my geographical distance to most epicenters.
Working as a geologists however gives me access to first-hand information when something happens.

Everybody is taking about the “BIG ONE” and when and where it is going to happen. From the research that I have done on my thesis, I can tell you: Nobody knows. There is certainty about the fact that a major earthquake is inevitably going to happen again, and the likelihood of it happening in the next 20 years is high, but making any precise predictions about the when and where are nearly impossible. This is frustrating and relieving at the same time.

Do people think about the fact that an earthquake could happen? I don’t. Definitely not on a daily basis. I am aware of the possibility, but my first gnawing thought in the morning is not if it could happen today [it’s more like wondering when I get my first cup of coffee :)]. You live with the knowledge in the back of your mind, but you don’t let it take you over.
To be honest, I would take an earthquake over a hurricane any day. They are far less scary to me than those unpredictable storms.

  1. Even though I’m more the social and economical geographer and not that much into geology I’m equally fascinated by the immense powers of the earth. It’s true, the fear of an earthquake isn’t so present when you live in CA, but when I think about that the Big One already is overdue, I kind of get a little scared!

  2. i always found your work so fascinating. i remember one earthquake in germany also. i was near to dortmund and stayed over at a pals house and i remember waking up in the middle of the night because my matress on the floor was moving, which was strange. but since it was over so quick i fell asleep right away. and if we haven’t had red about it in the newspaper the next day, i am sure i wouldn’t have remembered it.
    hehe…and i know why you still regret not being in new england. we share the same love for that area.:-)

  3. No, I don’t think I would want to live in earthquake country. We do have “small” ones here in New Hampshire, but usually just the dogs can tell.

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