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In California, Fixing A Curb Destroyed The 'Holy Grail Of Seismology'


In Hayward, Calif., city workers fixed a curb - not typically a national news story, but this was not just any curb. It had been called the holy grail of seismology, attracting thousands of geologists and earthquake enthusiasts for decades. Geologist David Schwartz had been visiting this little stretch of sidewalk for 30 years and joins us now. Hello, there.

DAVID SCHWARTZ: Hello, there.

SHAPIRO: What's the deal? Why did anyone care about this little curb?

SCHWARTZ: Well, we do care about the Hayward Fault, which is really one of the major and most important faults in the San Francisco Bay area. In the - in probably the late 1950s, your standard sidewalk curb was built across the fault, and the fault is creeping. So that means it moves a little bit every year - maybe about 4 millimeters. It broke through the curb and started pushing it out. And over the years, it's moved it 8 inches.

SHAPIRO: What did city officials think? Did they just have no idea this was a geologically significant spot?

SCHWARTZ: Yeah. I think that they were just looking to repair streets and really didn't have a good idea what it was - would have been nice to have been spoken to prior to that. And maybe what we need to do in the future is give them a list of places that really shouldn't be touched if they don't have to be.

SHAPIRO: How long will it be until you can see the movement in this little patch of curb Again?

SCHWARTZ: I would think within a couple of years, the fault will have cracked it and would've started to make it slide. If you wanted to see something really great, I think you'd have to wait about 30 years, unless we have a large earthquake, you know, in the interim.

SHAPIRO: David Schwartz is a geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey. Thanks for joining us.

SCHWARTZ: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.