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It's Not Our Fault

September 03, 2000|MICHAEL R. FORREST

Not only do Israel's pleasantly warm, dry summers and deliciously mild winters feel like Southern California, the Holy Land's faults mimic home as well. "The Dead Sea depression is a lot like the Imperial Valley, while the Sea of Galilee area, in northern Israel, is in some ways like L.A.," says Tom Rockwell, a professor at San Diego State University and head of its Southern California Earthquake Center's geology group. On several trips during the past four years, Rockwell, 45, has worked with Israeli colleagues to establish the earthquake history of the Dead Sea fault zone.

"We're trying to learn how faults behave on the short and long term, and we're working in the Middle East because it has such a long historical record," the paleo-seismologist says. "We can precisely date the earthquakes we see from our trenching." Using long-term patterns of seismic activity, Rockwell hopes to gain insight to better forecast earthquakes here.

He has a knack for making discoveries in unusual circumstances. In 1994, Rockwell was researching faults and marine terraces on Santa Rosa Island. While--and there's no discreet way to put it--passing water on a break, he spotted a spinal column of bones sticking out of a cliff. A cast of the skeleton, the only known complete pygmy mammoth remains, is currently on display at the Channel Islands National Park headquarters in Ventura.

One wonders what Rockwell will stumble upon during his next trip to the Middle East later this year. A really big ark?

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