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Thursday, February 28, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Giving geologists a shakedown: When do they think the Big One will hit, and are they ready?

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Meet some of the people behind the earthquake science who contributed to the Burke Museum's new exhibit, "The Big One: Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest," which opens today. So when will the Big One hit and how prepared are these experts? Read on.

Kathy Troost, 44

Derek Booth, 48

Job: University of Washington research scientist Troost is working on her Ph.D.; UW research professor Booth is her adviser.

What does that mean?

Troost: We make the best damn geologic maps on the planet. We make state-of-the-art maps of the Pacific Northwest.

Booth: I also do that, but have another side that works on urban watersheds and urban streams.

Why did you get into geology?

Troost: This always sounds corny, but it's in my blood. For as long as I can remember, I've been collecting rocks, and wanted to know how the pieces fit together.

Booth: I love being outdoors and enjoy science and wanted to find a way to put those two things together.

What are you famous for?

Troost: My biggest claim to fame is that I went to college with Larry Bird, and my other claim to fame is that while I was getting my bachelor's I appeared on "Dr. Hopp and Friends" (a TV science show).

Booth: We are medium-size fish in big ponds. I've done a lot of work around here in making geologic maps since 1978, and produced a number of — not best on the planet — decent maps that show the distribution of materials, particularly east of Seattle.

Where would you prefer to be during an earthquake in Seattle?

Troost: I would like to be in the Earth viewing the movement. I want to see it. It's so intangible. I don't want to be in my office, though; my pictures are still crooked from last year.

Booth: I would like to be on the ground and feel it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how prepared is your home?

Troost: My house is bolted to the foundation, and the hot-water tank is attached. I'm 2 out of 10, maybe? I don't have an earthquake kit, and I lost lots of precious knickknacks last year. Maybe I'm a five.

Booth: I would say 95 percent of potential life hazards are addressed. I'd give that an 8 or a 9. I don't worry about losing my dishes. I have the fish-tank stand attached to the wall. I have cans of soup in my pantry. I know where the shutoff for the gas is.

When will "The Big One" happen, and how bad will it be?

Troost: I have a morbid answer. I hope it happens in my lifetime, not because I want to see people get hurt but because it's such a cool natural experience. It's because we all need to be humbled by how dynamic the Earth is. Prediction-wise, I think it could happen in the next 100 years.

Booth: It will happen in several thousand years, and it will be a really bad one on the Seattle fault. Many things will fall down, like bridges and buildings. Not every one of them, but a lot of them.

Thomas Pratt, 43

Education: Ph.D.

Job: U.S. Geological Survey research geophysicist stationed at the UW.

What does that mean?

I have the freedom to do whatever I can that will help in understanding earthquakes better, and reduce the losses (of life) from earthquakes.

Are geologists more paranoid about earthquakes?

Yes, we are more paranoid, no doubt about it. We know what could potentially happen, and the big unknown is when it's going to happen.

When do you think "The Big One" will happen in Seattle?

I can tell you "The Big One" will happen in the next 10,000 years, but otherwise we cannot predict earthquakes.

What project are you currently working on?

We are looking at an area of 97 square kilometers (60 miles) where we are monitoring motion during small events. We are simply looking at how the ground shakes at the surface at 90 different sites and asking things like, why did this shake, and why does it shake more over here than over there?

Where would you like to be during an earthquake in Seattle?

Outdoors in a field with my family.

Where would you least like to be?

In an un-reinforced brick building, because those are the ones that tend to fall down.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how prepared is your home for an earthquake?

We are about a six or seven.

What precautions have you taken?

We've bolted our house down, and we've got some emergency supplies, and we've reinforced the basement wall. I also have the distinction of living in a brick house, but I do have earthquake insurance.

Ralph Haugerud, 48

Education: Ph.D.

Job: U.S. Geological Survey geologist stationed at the UW.

What does that mean?

I make maps of the Earth's surface and of the rocks and sediments that underlie the surface. I do this to understand Earth history, and to understand Earth hazards.

When do you think "The Big One" will happen in Seattle, and how bad will it be?

I don't know when "The Big One" will be, but if we see a M7 (magnitude 7.0) event on the Seattle fault, which is not too likely, imagine the World Trade Center collapse multiplied several times.

What are you famous for?

Not famous! Perhaps best-known among geologists for my knowledge of the North Cascades, for co-authoring, "Geology of the North Cascades" with Rowland Tabor and for my work with LIDAR (Light, Distance and Ranging) topography.

What is LIDAR?

Let's say we were trying to measure how far away a house is. You would need a stopwatch and laser pointer. Then you would press the button on the laser pointer and stopwatch, and when you saw the light hit the house, you would stop the stopwatch. The time it takes the light to get back to your eye is twice the distance of the house. We aren't fast enough to do that, but with the LIDAR instrument you can do that.

Where would you like to be during an earthquake in Seattle?

At home.

Where would you least like to be?

The north end of Harbor Island. I don't like swimming in cold water, and during a big earthquake the Duwamish delta-front is likely to collapse into Elliott Bay.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how prepared is your home for an earthquake?

7.

What precautions have you taken?

The frame is strapped to the foundation, and the water heater is strapped down. It's a one-story wood-frame house, which we purchased in part because of its earthquake safety.

Do you get excited when an earthquake happens?

I don't want them to happen, but it's a chance for us to exercise what we know. It's like solving a puzzle, and a big bag has opened and thrown a whole bunch of clues out.

Brian Sherrod, 40

Education: Ph.D.

Job: U.S. Geological Survey research geologist, specializing in paleoseismology (the study of past earthquakes).

What does that mean?

Currently, I'm working at how the coastline might have been deformed during an earthquake.

Where would you like to be during an earthquake in Seattle?

In the middle of a field. During the Nisqually one, I was on the University Bridge, and it was rocking. The bridge sections were banging together. It was awful. It was scary. I couldn't control my car. I had to stop because the bridge was moving.

What are you famous for?

I'm known for working on seismic hazard issues on the Seattle fault zone and Olympia fault.

What does a fault look like?

A fault is where bedrock has pushed over much younger deposits. We can see that in the field, where there's contact between bedrock and younger deposits, it creates grooves and striations (lines) where they've passed over each other.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how prepared is your home?

8. We've bolted our house to its foundation, and we have medical/emergency supplies. We don't have gas, so we don't have to worry about that.

What's your favorite geologic feature of the Earth?

One of my most favorite things are salt marshes. I love them. We have them all over the place.

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