Complex Fault Geometry Is Delicious

There’s a lot of frustration and restarting and re-coding and waiting inherent in numerical modeling. Once everything works, running the models needed to answer a given question is just a matter of processing time, but up until that time when it finally works? There can generally be a need to get those frustrations out there. My personal venting method, as many of you have probably seen me do, has been kvetching about obscure details of the code I use on Twitter. But I may have to get a little more creative, because Jennifer, one of the other grad students in our lab, came up with pretty much the best model frustration vent I have ever seen.

Jennifer was having trouble setting up her fault models in a way that they actually ran. She got so fed up with them on Tuesday that she went home early and baked a cake. A cake structured and decorated like her study area.

Map from D. Yule, "The Enigmatic San Gorgonio Pass," Geology, 2009.

The area in question is the San Gorgonio Pass in southern California. This is a nice simple place to run a freeway through, if you’re trying to get from L.A. to Palm Springs, but if you’re a fault trying to traverse the area? Good luck. A colloquial name for this area among the seismological community is the San Gorgonio Knot, because the easily-traced continuous part of the San Andreas Fault ends here, and comes into a complex mess of other strike slip faults and thrust faults, which may or may not be connected, and may or may not be able to rupture together. The issue of whether you can have an end to end rupture of the southern San Andreas is drastically complicated by the San Gorgonio Knot. There’s a ton to study here, both in terms of determining what the fault structure actually is, and then trying to figure out how a rupture might be able to traverse from fault to fault.

Jennifer is working on one of the many fault junctions within San Gorgonio Pass. This one involves a bent thrust fault that is joined (or possibly cut) at a nearly 90-degree angle by a right-lateral strike slip fault. While she’s still working on making a viable mesh of this fault junction, she very successfully made a viable cake.

The step in the surface of the cake represents the thrust fault, its scarp, and the San Bernardino Mountains behind it. The little line of butterscotch chips marks the trace of the strike-slip fault.

But surface geometry is only part of the issue in understanding San Gorgonio, and Jennifer’s cake takes that into account. She cut the cake subparallel to the strike-slip fault to reveal a wonderful offset in the chocolate cake/white cake sedimentary layers right where the thrust faults in. Also note the marble cake used to represent the metamorphosed roots of the mountains.Another wonderful thing about this method of venting about fault modeling frustration is that the rest of the lab got to partake. And it was delicious.

This gives me all kinds of ideas for cakes inspired by my own work. This will require me learning how to bake without setting off my smoke detector, but I think that may be a worthwhile pursuit. Have any of the rest of you made baked goods (or other food) inspired by your research? That might just be an Accretionary Wedge topic in the making, yes?


(For those who are wondering, yes, I have Jennifer’s permission to blog both about her cake and about her study area.)

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