Parkfield Shake Table

“David’s art installation brings the earthquakes that happen under California every day to the surface and makes them visible for all to see. His work has the potential to give viewers a deeper appreciation for how the earth works and why they need to accept and prepare for the inevitable large and damaging earthquakes. As scientists we can tell people about earthquakes and show graphs, but not everyone learns in the same way.” —Andy Michael, U.S. Geological Survey
Aerial photo of the shake table and surroundings

Photo taken from a kite-lofted camera, showing the shake table in context of the small town of Parkfield, CA.

Artist D.V. Rogers talks about his earthquake-triggered shake table.

Kiwi artist D.V. Rogers salvaged an unused shake table from a Sydney museum…but not to test the seismic performance of structures using simulated ground motions. Instead, he turned it into a time-based and temporary earthwork that shakes in response to seismic waves from California earthquakes.

The shake table is hooked up to the U.S. Geological Survey’s earthquake monitoring network via satellite internet, and is triggered in near real-time following reported quakes of Magnitude .1 and greater. 10-foot steel rods attached to the table “oscillate and resonate, reflecting the dynamic nature of the Californian landscape,” according to the artist.

“The piece is a 21st century expansion and interpretation of the land based art movement that began on the West Coast USA in the in the early 1970s.” The conceptual basis behind the earthwork is to bring all seismic events to a hypothetical epicenter, providing a feedback loop between California quakes and a physical and mechanical representation of the events.

The shake table is installed in a 75 ft. x 30 ft. excavated trench in Parkfield, California, population 50. Parkfield is situated right on top of the San Andreas Fault, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The small, remote township is known as the “earthquake capital of California” due to the large number of repeating Magnitude 6 – 6.5 earthquakes that have occurred over the past 150-years. The most recent event, a M 6.0, occurred in September 2004.

Video footage shot from a kite using a Jones Airfoils Globe Rig. D.V. triggers the shake table by stomping on a geophone seismic instrument installed underground.

Photo of the shake table rods Photo of the shake table at night Photo of the shake table at night

Looking straight up from the center of the shake table (top) and two close-up, nighttime shots showing the hydraulic actuators that create vertical movement on the shake table. The photo on the left is an 8.5-minute exposure taken on a moonless night with a blue-gel’d flashlight to fill in the top of the shake table. The photo on the right is a 30-second exposure with the fluorescent lights underneath the table switched on for a split second.

Photos and video by Scott Haefner, USGS.

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