California State University, Fullerton

Geology Alumni On the Scene in Ridgecrest

Cal State Fullerton alumni Janis Hernandez and Brian Olson, both engineering geologists at the California Geological Survey, were among the first on the scene after two large earthquakes hit Ridgecrest in early July. The pair collaborated with CSUF earthquake scientist Sinan Akçiz, his student Salena Padilla, and other geologists who spent days mapping the region to study the tremors.

Janis Hernandez

“It’s amazing to see surface rupture cutting across the land, and the impact it has to buckle streets and rupture utilities, which has an immediate impact to public access and services. It’s exciting to see what mother nature does to the ground,” says Hernandez, who earned a bachelor’s degree in geology in 1995.

For these reasons, it’s important to map surface rupture in quake-affected areas to better plan for future structures, including housing developments, and infrastructure, such as roads and pipelines. “Documenting surface rupture helps us to understand the characteristics of the earthquake and what it does to the land,” she adds. “It also helps with seismic safety planning for communities.”

Hernandez, the Department of Geological Sciences 2019 Alumni of the Year, credits her CSUF education for preparing her for such rigorous fieldwork:

“The classwork and field camps, particularly the field activities, are the strength of the university’s geology program.”

Brian Olson

Olson was stunned by the movement that occurred along the faults as a result of the intense seismic shaking: “The first thing I saw when I arrived in Ridgecrest were the fault breaks across Highway 178, which permanently shifted the road.”

The largest measured offset from the 7.1 magnitude earthquake is more than 13 feet, Olson shares. “That means the land on one side of the fault permanently shifted to the right over 13 feet in a few seconds!

“We want to determine how often earthquakes this size happen on this fault zone, so we can get an idea of how this fault zone fits in with other faults in the Eastern California Shear Zone,” he adds.

Olson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in geology in 1998, is excited about learning more about California’s prolific seismic activity:

“Seeing firsthand the power of plate tectonics and how the land responds to earthquakes is awe-inspiring, and helps us little by little to better understand this powerful phenomenon.”