California sits on unstable ground. Throughout its history, the fault lines rippling underneath the state have ruptured, sometimes with a terrifying force that has produced widespread damage and loss of life.
April 18, 2006, marks the 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and ensuing fire that destroyed the city. This was an event that left an indelible mark on the history and psyche of California — and it remains a vivid reminder of the destruction earthquakes can cause.
Today, even as it has developed into the nation's most populous state, an international center of technological innovation, and one of the world's leading economies, California remains highly vulnerable to the ravages of the next big earthquake.
In anticipation of that event, faculty, students, and researchers at the University of California's campuses and national laboratories are playing a lead role in conducting research to help us understand, prepare for, and recover from earthquakes. This web site provides a small sampling of the work being done at UC to both commemorate 1906 and prepare for our seismic future.
We invite you to explore the links at left, which will take you on a tour of some of the University of California's efforts to better understand the violent forces beneath our feet.
UC Earthquake Research
Scientists at UC Irvine are working to help "make buildings tougher" using a shake table that has replicated the Kobe and Northridge earthquakes. They also are pursuing research into soil-structure interaction and its impact on building performance in an earthquake.
UCI researchers also have found that the type of fault that led to the disastrous 1994 Northridge earthquake also exists in Orange County, possibly setting the stage for a similar disaster in that region.
- UC San Diego is home to the largest earthquake "shake table" in the United States and the only outdoor shake table in the world, ideally suited for testing tall, full-scale buildings. The facility is part of the National Science Foundation's Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. UCSD structural engineers are using it to, among other things, identify the right amount of steel reinforcement needed for concrete buildings to withstand powerful earthquakes.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC Berkeley scientists, working with the U.S. Geological Survey, have contributed to new computer models that re-create the ground motions from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The results of these simulations will be used by earthquake engineers to assess the likely impacts of future earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault. On this web site, movies and map-view snapshots show the seismic waves of 1906 moving outward from the fault as the rupture expands from the epicenter.
Seismic simulations of the 1906 earthquake, as well as simulations of the effects of a major temblor on the Bay Bridge, are available on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory public affairs web site.
LLNL Seismologist and Computer Scientist Shawn Larsen describes the importance of their computer simulations in this video clip.
LLNL Applied Mathematician Anders Petersson talks about what their new computer codes can do in this video clip.
- UC Davis scientists have led a multi-institution computer simulation study that recently estimated that the San Francisco Bay region has a 25 percent chance of a magnitude 7 or greater earthquake in the next 20 years. The researchers' computer model simulated 40,000 years of earthquakes in California in order to produce the forecast.
UC Earthquake Research
Project RESCUE, or Responding to Crises and Unexpected Events, is a multi-institution initiative led by researchers at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology at UC Irvine and UC San Diego. Project researchers are studying ways to enhance emergency responders' ability to gather, manage, use and disseminate information to other responders and to the public.
The UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory has, since 1887, been involved in operating seismic networks in central and northern California. The laboratory is involved in a number of projects in geophysical monitoring, earthquake information dissemination, and education and outreach.
The lab also co-operates, with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Northern California Earthquake Data Center, a long-term archive and distribution center for seismological and geodetic data.
UCLA researchers have reported that one fault can be damaged by the shaking and stress from an earthquake on a different fault.
UCLA is also the site of the Center of Embedded Networked Sensing, a multi-university effort conducting research to develop sensors to monitor seismic activity and structural response in real time; and the campus has an equipment site that is part of the national Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation specializing in field testing and monitoring of structural performance.
A geophysicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has identified possible seismic precursors to two recent California earthquakes, including the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that wreaked havoc throughout the Bay Area. Other Berkeley Lab scientists have developed a better way to eavesdrop on the San Andreas Fault — they have constructed CT-scan-like images of the fault revealing nucleation zones of past quakes and areas where stress continues to build, at a resolution 10 times greater than other images.
UC Earthquake Research
- A team of UC Riverside geologists has reported that minerals found deep in the earth can react in ways that trigger earthquakes at depths where they would not be expected to occur, a finding that might eventually help scientists understand the triggers for more shallow earthquakes. And a UCR geophysicist is the originator of the "rate and state" friction law, which is a major advance in understanding friction and may be critical for the eventual development of earthquake prediction strategies.
UC Davis is home to one of the world's largest geotechnical centrifuges at the Center for Geotechnical Modeling. Researchers from around the world use the facility to study geotechnical problems such as the strength, stiffness and capacity of foundations for bridges and buildings; settlement of embankments; stability of slopes; earth retaining structures; and stability of tunnels, ports and seawalls.
- The Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, a National Science Foundation research center located at UC Berkeley, is making contributions to understanding a range of earthquake-related issues, including the seismic safety of electric utility systems and the structural failure of older concrete buildings.
The Hazards Mitigation Center at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory provides state-of-the-art hazards mitigation analyses and resources and serves a broad range of clients, including government, industry, and the military. In collaboration with UC Berkeley, the center has used motion sensors to assess the effects of geologic conditions on bridges crossing San Francisco Bay and has developed computer programs to help analyze the response of important bridges and building structures to large earthquakes.
Los Alamos National Laboratory is participating in the California Hazards Institute, an all-UC-campus organization to look at disasters in general. LANL is bringing together infrastructure expertise that includes population mobility data, ground motion studies, and the effects of interrelated infrastructures such as electricity and natural gas. Other LANL/UC activities include a research agreement with UC Santa Barbara on transportation evacuation routes and related social systems research topics.
Earthquake research at Los Alamos extends over many years, with modeling and simulation capabilities developed initially to understand the geological impacts of underground nuclear tests. More currently, homeland security work in the protection of critical infrastructures (electrical power, natural gas, water, evacuation planning) has led to the development of the NISAC project, the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center, a joint effort with Sandia National Laboratories.
- The vital statistics of the 1906 earthquake, courtesy of the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.
The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley has compiled a web collection of thousands of digital images and text files from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The web site includes an online collection, digital map of San Francisco, and 360-degree panoramic view of the ruined city.
The California Digital Library's Online Archive of California has an impressive digital collection of images from the 1906 earthquake and fire. For instance, see these images of San Francisco and Oakland after the event.
The National Information Service for Earthquake Engineering at UC Berkeley offers images of historical earthquakes and a Flash presentation on the 1906 quake.
- Full text version of this Web site (PDF).
- Frequently asked questions about earthquakes, courtesy of the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.
- Overview information about earthquakes from UC Santa Barbara's Institute for Crustal Studies, including an earthquake quiz and famous earthquake accounts.
- UC Davis tips on food safety following an earthquake.
- UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources has developed a series of recorded telephone messages in Spanish providing undeserved Latino populations with information about how to prepare for an earthquake. The messages are available on a toll-free bilingual information line at 1-800-514-4494 and at http://espanol.ucanr.org. Listen to two of the recorded messages here and here.
Several UC campuses are part of the 1906 Earthquake Centennial Alliance, which has been formed to help coordinate and promote efforts and activities between organizations throughout Northern California planning to commemorate the earthquake. The web site includes an interactive map of upcoming events commemorating the quake.
- 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference, April 18-22, San Francisco.
About This Site
This site was developed by Strategic Communications, UC Office of the President in concert with the campuses and national laboratories. Many thanks to all who provided the content and research profiled here.
- Site design+Flash: Scott Smith
- Video editor: Larissa Branin
- Intro video: Joe Camoriano, Rex Graham, John Quick, Larissa Branin, Jose Pantoja, Jordan Ricasa
- Content editors: Jennifer Ward, Brad Hayward