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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Do You Need to Know About Every Last 2.0 Quake?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 12:05 AM

click to enlarge Now that's an earthquake!
  • Now that's an earthquake!

The search for content in today's media market is constant. So, it would seem, are the number of minor earthquakes rattling the Bay Area. Like chocolate and peanut butter, the marriage of online journalists desperately in need of material and neverending reports of piddly-dink earthquakes is a natural.

But, unlike chocolate and peanut butter, one soon grows tired of reports of 2.0 magnitude quakes. While East Coast transplants may grow freaked out by minor tremors, locals are likely to mistake a 2.0 temblor for a spouse with a bad case of the wind.

So, who cares about these endless reports of minor-league quakes? It turns out scientists do. They care a lot.

U.C. Santa Cruz seismology professor Emily Brodsky tells SF Weekly that much of her research centers around earthquakes with a Richter Scale reading of as low as -4.

Yes, you read that right. Earthquakes can have negative Richter Scale readings. How's that? The scale we use today is based on the measurement device invented by the eponymous Charles Richter in 1935. Since scientists have developed far more sensitive instruments in the intervening 75 years, tremors Richter's original devices never would have detected now register as "negative." Says Brodsky, "It's as if Charlie Richter had a ruler that only measured inches and now we can measure by the thousands of an inch."

Anyhow infinitesimally small quakes modern devices can detect are of interest to scientists like Brodsky. She can measure even minor tremors' aftershocks -- and the aftershocks of the aftershocks, and the aftershocks of the aftershocks of the aftershocks, and so on. It recalls the tinier and tinier cats under each Cat in the Hat's chapeaux.

The length of an earthquake-aftershock sequence depends on detecting the smallest possible quakes. So these things matter to her. But to the average Bay Area news consumer, frankly, it's a waste of your goddamn time to bother reporting on a 2.0 quake in Danville.

Seriously, where should we send the canned food and blankets?

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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