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Faultline samples could hold clues

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
October 4, 2007

Core samples from inside the San Andreas fault may provide scientists with their first clues regarding how earthquakes begin, why they happen when they do and why some are so much stronger than others.

Those samples, drilled just weeks ago from a test site near Paso Robles, were unveiled by Stanford University and U.S. Geological Survey scientists Thursday. The group also announced plans to establish an observatory two miles underground, deep within California’s biggest fault, to measure and study earthquakes as they happen.

“For the first time, scientists can hold a piece of the San Andreas fault in their hands,” said Mark Zoback, a geophysicist with Stanford University.

Until now, researchers had to make do with what they could observe from the earth’s surface. The samples, along with the observatory, may answer many longstanding questions about the fault responsible for the 1906 earthquake and 1989’s Loma Prieta quake.

Geologists installed a steel channel in the fault to drill out core samples.

The samples include rock found all over California — along with serpentine, which comes from the earth’s crust on the ocean floor, Zoback said. That may provide a key clue regarding how active the San Andreas fault is, because serpentine, a relatively weak mineral, produces talc, an even weaker mineral. Talc’s friction-reducing properties may be lubricating the fault line.

“It could be that the San Andreas fault is located where it is because of where the serpentine is,” Zoback said. “And then the serpentine gets caught up and smeared along the length of the fault.”

Geologists chose the test site, in the small town of Parkside, because it has repeating “mini-earthquakes” that are not felt on the earth’s surface but provide a steady stream of data about the fault line’s movement over time, said William Ellsworth, a geologist with the USGS.

The observatory will consist of a 7-inch channel lined with scientific instruments that will study the fault over a 15-year period. Those instruments will detect clues regarding what happens before, during and after each quake and send data to computers on the earth’s surface for analysis.

“We don’t understand the physics that control the start of an earthquake, or why they stop,” Ellsworth said. “We’ve already recorded thousands of earthquakes and we’re beginning to see new physics not observed on the surface.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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Written by Beth Winegarner

October 4, 2007 at 10:43 PM

Peninsula fireman helps Kansas town

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 9, 2007

Frank Fraone is no stranger to disasters.

In the 17 years since he joined the Menlo Park Fire Department disaster-response team, the division chief has pitched in at the scenes of the Oklahoma City bombing, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina.

Now, Fraone is in Greensburg, Kan., along with hundreds of other fire department personnel from across the country, helping the town get back on its feet after it was torn apart by a tornado May 4.

Roughly 90 percent of the town was destroyed in the tornado, which left 10 people dead.

“People are bonding together, and they want to rebuild their lives and homes,” said Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman. Fraone has checked in with Schapelhouman twice a day since he arrived on scene Monday.

Greensburg’s first order of business is to clear all debris off city and county-owned land and streets, so utilities such as water, sewer, electricity and telephones can be restored, according to city spokeswoman Karen Watson.

“It’s going to be quite an effort to remove it all,” Watson said.

The majority of the town’s 1,400 residents are being housed in shelters provided by neighboring towns, or with friends and family. FEMA trailers can’t be set up until the sewer system is re-established.

As Fraone responds to crises across the nation, he gains experience he can use at home, according to Schapelhouman, who also responded to the World Trade Center attacks.

“We have a very good, very realistic understanding of what happens in significant disaster,” Schapelhouman said. “It gives you an understanding of how to manage large-scale events.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 9, 2007 at 10:54 PM

Posted in Menlo Park

Study: Tiny tremors may foretell big earthquakes

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
March 15, 2007

Stanford researchers have discovered a new kind of tiny temblor that may foreshadow major seismic events, such as earthquakes.

A new study by Stanford geophysicists Greg Beroza and David Shelly released Thursday examines minuscule tremors deep under the earth’s crust that appear to simultaneously relieve pressure on one part of a fault line while increasing the load on another part.

Unlike typical earthquakes, which last a few seconds each, these tremors can shake the ground for hours or even days, according to study spokesman Mark Schwartz.

“These tremors are happening in places and ways that could encourage an earthquake on shallower parts of the fault, but so far it’s premature to say it’s goingto help us predict earthquakes,” Beroza said.

Sensors in fault lines in California, Japan and Canada have detected the tremors, which are so small they can’t be measured on the Richter scale. The tiny movements have been detected in the California town of Cholame, just northeast of Cambria, but not yet in the Bay Area, according to Beroza.

The findings come at a time when Bay Area residents have been unsettled by a series of small temblors in the East Bay, including several that hit Berkeley in December and a recent rash in Lafayette, Walnut Creek and San Pablo.

While those quakes aren’t the same as the tremors Stanford scientists studied, they all occurred along the Hayward fault, whose structure is similar to those where such minuscule shaking could predict bigger earthquakes to come, according to Robert Nadeau, an assistant seismologist at UC Berkeley.

“We can’t see anything, but more sensitive equipment may find them if they’re there,” Nadeau said.

Like the southern Japan and San Andreas faults, the Hayward fault has a “lock zone” — an area where plates are stuck fast and any small movement might set off a chain reaction leading to a larger quake.

The Hayward fault has a 27 percent chance of seeing a major earthquake in the next 30 years, according to a 2003 study from the United States Geological Survey. The San Andreas fault’s chances are pegged at 21 percent, according to William Ellsworth, a geophysicist with the survey.

While researchers believe large earthquakes happen every 100 years or so on the San Andreas fault — the last was the 1906 quake— the Hayward fault sees major action every 150 years, and its most recent “big one” occurred in 1868, Ellsworth said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 15, 2007 at 10:47 PM

Posted in environment, Menlo Park

Burger joint to open Menlo Park location

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Beth Winegarner
San Francisco Examiner
March 8, 2007

Jeffrey’s Hamburgers, the popular burger joint that has held steady while San Mateo’s downtown came to life, is now opening a second diner in Menlo Park on El Camino Real at a time when city leaders hope to boost downtown activity.

After 10 years of feeding San Mateo locals, owner Serge Karanov plans to open the new Jeffrey’s at 888 El Camino, just south of Santa Cruz Avenue, in three months.

That came as good news to fans who crowded into the red-and-chrome diner Sunday afternoon for heaping platters of fries, salads and fresh-grilled burgers.

“The food’s always good, and very consistent,” said San Mateo native Greg Roth, who has eaten at Jeffrey’s about once a week for the last eight years. “They serve my kind of food.”

Karanov bought the restaurant at the corner of First and B streets in San Mateo nearly 10 years ago. Jeffrey’s was named for the son of the original owner, who went on to run George’s Burgers in Walnut Creek.

Since then, downtown San Mateo has undergone radical changes, with the addition of a movie theater and new shops that draw hungry shoppers into the city.

Jeffrey’s grinds its chuck fresh every morning and makes everything in-house, a standard that has won its food numerous awards from local newspapers and the American Automobile Association, which named it one of the best hamburger restaurants on the West Coast.

“The only secret is a good day of honest work,” Karanov said. “It’s not hard to make a good hamburger. The only trick is making it all yourself.”

Before purchasing the Menlo Park site — once home to Henry’s Prime — Karanov investigated a number of storefronts in Redwood City, but said he had his doubts about the success of that city’s downtown.

Now, he’s hard at work designing the new site to make it look like a classic diner.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 8, 2007 at 6:43 AM