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July 27, 2007

Daytrip to Mysore

farmer and cows baby monkey1

temple entrance mysore palace

Though Bangalore is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, it's apparently not known for its cultural tourist attractions. My hosts at IIAP recommended I use my day off to travel to Mysore, about a three-hour drive away. I went with two US graduate students, Nick and Russell, who are doing a summer research program at the IIAP, but the trip didn't go quite as planned ...

About 2 hours from Bangalore, our car broke down, and we had to wait by the side of the road for a mechanic to come rescue us. This actually turned out to be one of the coolest experiences of the trip, because the local inhabitants of the rural area took quite an interest in us. We were able to communicate through our driver as translator, and I really enjoyed talking with all of the people who came to check out the foreigners. The farmer above was tending his fields nearby and took a particular interest in us. He was very excited about having his picture taken, and he eventually invited us to his home for coffee.

Our replacement car eventually arrived after a couple of hours, and we headed on our way for the rest of the far-more-touristy daytrip. First we visited Srirangapatnam, an island in the river associated with several warriors from the last millenium. The most well-known is Tipu Sultan, who mounted his assault against the invading British colonizers from here in 1799. He cultivated his nickname of "the tiger," keeping a palace full of tiger-related objects, including this organ, formed in the shape of a tiger mauling a man's throat.

Other notable stops included a temple atop Chaimundi hill, the magnificent Maharaja's palace (which unfortunately does not permit photography), and a fountain light show set to pop Indian music. Picture album here.

First days in Bangalore

flower shop IIAP

My first stop was Banglore (not counting the layover in Singapore on my way in from Tokyo). My primary purpose there was to run a two-day workshop at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, and I stayed at the guesthouse on campus, pictured at right. The campus was quite lovely, though I soon realized it was like a bucolic oasis of green amidst a crowded, bustling metropolis. The picture on the left shows small flower shop from the streets a little way outside its walls.

I arrived late at night, but still woke very early the next morning and went for a walk in search of breakfast before my first meeting at 10am. (This was before I realized that I had been assigned a personal chef for my stay at the guesthouse ...) Some pictures of street scenes and first impressions can be found here.

Return from India

elephant lake

As some may know, I recently returned from a 2-week trip to India, where I gave a series of workshops at local research institutes describing how to access and use my satellite's publicly accessible data. (The trip was focused on India because the money came from a grant written by some colleages of mine from that country.) We traveled to three cities: Bangalore, Udaipur, and Mumbai (formerly named Bombay). I have a ton of pictures and good stories, which I'll share over the next several blog entries. It will probably take me awhile before I get a chance to post everything, so please be patient with me :-)

July 17, 2007

Teachable Moment: Earthquakes in Japan

Shaking from a shallow earthquake Shaking from a deep earthquake

L and I returned to Japan yesterday, with flights timed so that our planes converged from opposite points on the globe on Tokyo in time to meet up at the airport. We've been home less than 24 hours and we've already felt three earthquakes. We are both doing fine and there was no damage anywhere near us. I know I said it would be hard to post to the blog, but there is nothing like a fascinating feat of nature to get me excited about blogging again. Continue reading this message (click on the link below) to learn more about earthquakes...

The first two earthquakes we felt were the Niigata event and its largest aftershock. You've probably heard about it (perhaps you read this awful article about it from AP/CNN whose headline claims that there was a radioactive leak in a nearby nuclear reactor but whose body contradicts that, or a slightly less sensationalist article from our local newspaper). The map on the left shows the shaking intensity recorded by instruments all over Japan during the first of the three events we felt -- pretty strong! For us in Tokyo, the shaking felt fairly gentle. The second earthquake of the day was an aftershock of this event, and it was even more gentle so that L didn't even feel it when sitting beside me.

The third earthquake, however, felt very different. The shaking, while also relatively mild, felt like it lasted for a much longer time. When we looked online, we saw the shaking intensity map shown on the right (click to enlarge it). Both earthquakes were about the same distance away from Tokyo and both were recorded as magnitude 6.6 on the JMA website, which means that the two events released the same amount of energy. Despite that fact, the Niigata earthquake (left image) has much stronger shaking intensity. A red 'X' on each image shows the earthquake epicenter (the point on the map above where the earthquake started rupturing the fault). The Niigata earthquake (left image) follows the 'usual' pattern where shaking is strongest close to the earthquake epicenter and dies out as you get further away. But look at the really strange pattern from the earthquake on the right. The strongest shaking is actually along the Pacific coast in Hokkaido (the northern island), despite the fact that the epicenter is way off to the west in the Sea of Japan. What's up?

The map above shows the location of earthquakes in Japan over a ten year period. There are a lot of them. The colors show the depth of different earthquakes. The bottom graph shows a slice through the earth (a cross section) with the same earthquakes. The progression of colors seem to line up as a straight line, which is the evidence geologists used to discover "subduction zones" where one plate gets pushed beneath the other (see the image below). The plate boundary in Japan is on the Pacific coast (eastern side), but both of the earthquakes we felt yesterday are on the western side of Japan (probably at around distance of "200 km" on the horizontal-axis of the bottom plot). The Niigata earthquake, that produced damage like a bullseye started around 17 km deep (orange color). The other earthquake that produced the weird shaking pattern started at a depth of over 370 km (purple color off the bottom of this cross section). Shaking energy from the deeper event had to travel all the way from 370 km down up to the surface. During that longer journey, more of the energy got absorbed so that the peak shaking was less than the peak shaking from the shallow Niigata earthquake. Even though the earthquakes were about the same 200-250 km away horizontally, the depth difference also explains the longer shaking. Because of this extra vertical distance, the faster P-waves got further and further ahead of the slower S-waves as they raced to the surface, so that meant that there was a longer time between the first P-wave arrival and the end of the last S-wave shaking. Hence the deep earthquake shook us for a lot longer duration.

There's more advanced stuff we can learn from the deep earthquake as well (this stuff is a bit outside my area of expertise, so it might be wrong. Seismologist friends: be sure to make corrections). The plate sudbucting down into the earth is cold and dense (which is one of the reasons it sinks downward), and that makes earthquake waves travel more easily through it than the surrounding hotter and squishier earth. My guess is that energy from the deep earthquake stayed trapped within the subducting plate all the way up to the surface, which is why shaking was most intense nearest to where that plate reaches the surface along the eastern coast of Japan instead of closer to the epicenter. Even though it would have been a shorter distance to travel vertically, it was easier for the waves to go the longer distance through the plate. Also, shaking is much more intense to the north of Tokyo than to the south. This could be because Tokyo is at the boundary between three (or perhaps four) tectonic plates. If my guess is correct, then the deep earthquake occurred within the Pacific Plate and propagated only within it -- stations on the adjacent Philippine Sea Plate to the south hardly felt a thing. Seismologists give this phenomenon a fancy name called a "wave guide."

We've been keeping our list of felt earthquakes up-to-date. Check it out here.

July 11, 2007

A sad posting...

The View of the creek from the Memorial sunset

Today's post is about sunsets, and it will explain why we haven't posted anything recently. While Loraine's parents were staying with us in Japan, we got woken up by the worst kind of phone call. My dad and brother were on the phone together to tell me that my mother had unexpectedly died in her sleep. Less than two weeks before, Mom and Dad had been in Japan with us (scroll down to the postings from late May to see the pictures). They got the chance to share pieces of our life in Japan, and we had some great adventures touring around together. Mom was in perfect health, so it was an unbelievable surprise.

Loraine and I hopped on the first plane to California and I've been here ever since (almost exactly one month ago). The sunset on the left is the view from Creekside Park, where we held an outdoor memorial celebration of Mom's life. With less than a week's notice, we put together a wonderful event (with a guest list substantially larger than for my wedding). About a decade ago, Mom started a small nonprofit organization to preserve and enhance the local creek system, so it was fitting for us to have the ceremony in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais and beside the marshland in the glowing evening light. She was a huge part of all of our lives, and I've spent the last month trying to figure out what my life will look like without her in it.

The second sunset represents the adventures that are still yet to come. After a few weeks, Loraine needed to return to work in Japan and then onto a business trip in India. She's visiting three cities throughout western India (Bangalore, Mumbai/Bombay, and Udaipur, where she took this photo from her hotel balcony). She's meeting with solar physicists and giving talks about her satellite. She has also given several public lectures and toured around the countryside.

Loraine will probably post some things about her amazing trip to India in the next few weeks, but it's going to be hard for me post things for a little while. I originally set up this blog when I moved outside the Bay Area for the first time. While it was fun to share with friends and record our adventures, it's main purpose has always been to make sure that Mom could stay up-to-date on my life when time zones or time constraints made it too difficult for us to keep in touch as much as she would have liked. It's title came from my love of watching the behavior of my local bird friend, which is a trait that I learned from my Mom. She always kept a pair of binoculars ready in the kitchen so she could watch hawks and other birds fly by, and I always stopped my work to watch the hummingbird feed outside my window. Our blog will definitely continue, but it will never be the same.

We hope you'll all continue to share in our many new adventures. Stay tuned!