This story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by WIRED's parent company, Condé Nast."We often view such grand and prominent landforms as permanent features of our landscape, when in reality, they are continuously moving and evolving," said coauthor Riley Finnegan, a graduate student at the University of Utah. "Because nothing is truly static, there is always energy propagating throughout the earth, which serves as a constant vibration source for the rock."
The research team has an entire webpage devoted to its seismic recordings of the natural resonances (vibrations) that come out of the Utah arches. The arches are the impressive red rock formations dotted about Castle Valley, about 10 miles from the town of Moab, and the team has sped up the recordings into audible sound. Those structures can bend, sway, and shake in response to any number of factors: wind gusts, distant seismic tremors, thermal stresses, local traffic, and so forth. The arches often amplify the energy passing through them if the frequencies are just right. Understanding those dynamics is crucial to being able to predict how the structures will respond in the event of an earthquake or similar disruption. Yet there haven't been many ongoing efforts to do so over the years, despite a great deal of research on man-made civil structures.One of the major challenges to studying the arches is gaining the access necessary to make those vibrational measurements in the first place. Either the formations are restricted (the better to preserve them for posterity), or it's simply too difficult to place sensors in hard-to-reach spots on the formations. That's what makes this new data set of ambient vibrations from the 120-meter (393-foot) Castleton Tower so significant.
"As of just a few years ago, there were almost no measurements of this kind in existence," said coauthor Jeff Moore, a University of Utah geologist who led the study. "So every feature we measure is something new."
Finnegan and his colleagues managed to collect their data with the help of two experienced rock climbers. They were able to climb the tower and place seismometers in key spots: at the base of the structure (to serve as a reference) and another at the top. The climbers stayed with the instrument for three hours as it recorded data, then climbed back down to return it to the researchers.