Pin It
Favorite

Finding Spokane’s Faults 

On the road to find the source of local earthquakes

click to enlarge Chris Cothburn and the Vibroseis machine used to study Spokane’s fault lines. - CHRIS STEIN
  • Chris Stein
  • Chris Cothburn and the Vibroseis machine used to study Spokane‚Äôs fault lines.
On a baking-hot Spokane day, Chris Cothburn sits behind the wheel of a Ford F-250 tricked out with everything a geologist could want. A desktop computer is riding shotgun. A car battery is in the passenger footwell.

He raises a walkie-talkie radio to his mouth. “Armed and ready at 282,” he says. A noise like the sound of a revving airplane engine fills the air as the ground beneath the truck’s wheels starts to shake.

Called a Vibroseis, the trailer on the back of Cothburn’s truck presses a metal plate onto a ground and emits sound waves. Two pulses every five meters, then the truck moves on.

If all goes well, geologists in a cramped RV a block away will start seeing lines on the screen.

Once those lines are mapped and lined up, Cothburn, and his colleagues from the U.S. Geological Survey will be able to see a two-dimensional image of the ground that, they hope, will tell them what caused a spate of earthquakes in Spokane over a decade ago.

“We’re doing this to better understand earthquake risk in the area and hopefully save some lives,” says Cothburn, a lab manager at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The earthquakes in 2001 didn’t do much damage, but they did pique the interest of Bill Stephenson, a Colorado-based geophysicist for the USGS. It’s taken until now to get the money together to come to Spokane. He was busy in the meantime trying to figure out, for instance, why Washington D.C. was rocked by an earthquake last year.

“We’re trying to help find the seismic hazard in this area,” Stephenson says. The area Stephenson and his team were working last Friday was about a mile-long stretch of Baldwin and Hamilton streets north of the river.

While finding faults can be done from the air, urban areas require a different approach, Stephenson says. Hence, Cothburn and his strange rig.

“I told them, this is cooler than Mythbusters,” says Charles Curtiss, who encountered the geologists as he was riding his bicycle towards Division Street to hand out resumes.

Across Division, Cothburn’s truck rumbles on, leaving behind plate-shaped rings of dirt as it tracks down Spokane’s faults.

  • Pin It

Speaking of...

Latest in News

  • Robo-Reporter
  • Robo-Reporter

    Can robots take over local sports coverage?
    • May 20, 2015
  • Dude, Where's My Bike?
  • Dude, Where's My Bike?

    A new tool to protect your bicycle; plus, finding a new police ombudsman
    • May 20, 2015
  • The Contenders
  • The Contenders

    Candidates have filed to run for office in Spokane. Here's what's at stake
    • May 20, 2015
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
StoryCorps

StoryCorps @ Spokane Falls Community College

Through May 22

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Chris Stein

  • Ready for Anything
  • Ready for Anything

    Developing agility may help prevent injury
    • Sep 1, 2012
  • PAML's Next Step
  • PAML's Next Step

    Francisco Velazquez insists on symmetry. Even sitting at a huge table flanked by leather-backed chairs and a jumble of expensive video equipment, he makes sure his Blackberry and iPhone (the former for business, the latter for pleasure) are situated in neat symmetry with each other.
    • Sep 1, 2012
  • Burns Out
  • Burns Out

    As the city scrambles to keep Tim Burns around for a while longer, the police ombudsman says he may leave his post anyway
    • Aug 22, 2012
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • This Old House

    If it could talk, it could tell stories of three generations, along with a lot of griping from neighbors
    • Apr 29, 2015
  • On a Roll

    Just-announced reforms do little to safeguard Spokane against the danger of oil trains
    • May 6, 2015
  • More »

© 2015 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation