Washington Quake Made Art

ByAmanda Onion

March 13, 2001 -- When a 6.8-magnitude earthquake shook the Pacific Northwest on Feb. 28, it cracked sidewalks, toppled buildings and, in a small shop in Port Townsend, Wash., carved what thousands of people are now calling earthquake art.

"You never think about an earthquake as being artistic — it's violent and destructive," says Norman MacLeod, president of Gaelic Wolf Consulting in Port Townsend. "But in the middle of all that chaos, this fine delicate artwork was created."

The "delicate" artwork MacLeod refers to is an intricate, rose-like shape that was reportedly formed in sand by a trembling pendulum during the 45 seconds the quake shook the Pacific Northwest.

The pendulum, which was on display at a Port Townsend charm shop called Mind Over Matter, features a pointed weight at the end of a long wire that traces lines in a tray of sand. Since images of the unusual pendulum pattern were distributed over the Internet, the store's owner, Jason Ward, has been swamped by hundreds of e-mails requesting models of the Pennsylvania-made device.

A Rose? An Eye?

At first Ward didn't notice what patterns the pendulum had recorded.

"I was just relieved nothing had come crashing down," says Ward. "Then one of my employees noticed the design. I said, 'My god, it's an eye!'"

The pattern features a central design of short, squiggly strokes surrounded by curved lines that taper into an elliptical shape. Longer lines frame the central image.

Ward says the rose-like shape was created as the ground shook the tray of sand beneath the pendulum and the curved lines formed during the quake's lower frequency waves. The longer lines that surround the pattern were formed earlier by people in the shop who had set the pendulum in swing.

After posting the images of the pattern on a web site (see link at right) MacLeod has been receiving thousands of letters from people theorizing what the shape might mean. Some have said it is the eye of Poseidon, a Greek god, others say it's a rose, some have even suggested it's a recording of a top secret government weapon designed to trigger earthquakes.

Seismologists, meanwhile, have their own ideas.

Quake's Dimensions Revealed

"The pattern shows the three-dimensional pattern of the quake. It's a nice little seismogram that helps people understand how the ground was moving at the time of the quake," says Bill Steele, a seismologist at the University of Washington.

Steele explains real, modern seismograms record the north-south, east-west and vertical shakings of a quake. The information is then fed into a computer that creates a three-dimensional reading of the quake.

Steele says the sand carved by the pendulum during the quake also reveal the multi-directional shakes of the quake, but, of course, not very precisely.

Images of the pendulum's pattern has generated so much interest that Ward had hoped to take a mold of the pattern. But before someone could take the mold, Ward's 3-year-old son shook up those plans. When trying to get a better look at the intricately-carved sand, the boy accidentally kicked the pendulum — and erased the sand's design.

"I was a little upset, but I know he didn't mean to do it," says Ward, "and at least we got the photographs."

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