In my last post on Creativity and Bay Area Innovation, I explored the effects of the weather on the Bay Area’s inhabitants to create like no other region. Now I’d like to explore the Earth underneath, seeing how the peculiar geology of the Bay Area contributes to creativity and innovation. For this section, keep in mind the importance of recognizing both the dynamic nature of the creative universe as well as its interdependence. In a region prone to earthquakes, and those earthquake the results of forces playing themselves out on a global scale, there is a felt sense of the dynamism and interdependence happening simply by living in a region prone seismic activity.
Much of the landscape we see in the Bay Area can be understood in the context of geology’s own grand unification theory, plate tectonics. As one of the most interesting and comprehensive discoveries science has yet to produced, the theory of plate tectonics reveals that the Earth we inhabit, while spanning almost 200 million square miles of surface area, is intimately connected. Magma welling up in the center of the Atlantic, and temblors in Chile and Japan, for example, all contribute to the seismic events in California.
While all parts of the geologic Earth—core, mantel, crust—and by extension, the oceans and atmosphere, are engaged in an unending dance of build up and release, it is really only the inhabitants of transition points—fault lines, subduction zones, volcanoes, hot spots, spreading centers—who know this in their bones. On this front, inhabitants of the Bay Area have much more to fraternize about with persons from Christchurch, New Zealand, (fault line), Jakarta, Indonesia (Subduction zone), Naples, Italy (Volcanoes) and Rekiveck, Iceland (you name it) than they do with their fellow Americans residing in Omaha, Chicago, or Washington DC.
The Bay Area lies just to the east, but well inside the frayed boundary separating two tectonic behemoths. To the west, the Pacific plate forms a sizable chunk of the Earth’s crust, underlying the bulk of its largest ocean. To the east, the North American Plate stretches from western California to Iceland and the Mid Atlantic rift—some 6000 miles away. North to south, the North American plate spans from Central America to the northern edge of Canada, Greenland, and parts of Siberia. In California, the boundary between these two plates is a 750 mile fracture line starting at the parched, meth head landscape of the Salton Sea east of San Diego running through Southern, Central, and Northern California and terminating at Punta Gorda in the lush coastal forests of Mendocino County.
This knife edge fault (on a geologic scale) enters the Bay Area south of San Jose, where it splits like a tuning fork into two parallel fault systems. These two fault systems bracket the San Francisco estuary and the bulk of its shoreline. Known for its consistent edginess and occasional binge behavior, the principle fault—the San Andreas—is a geological rock star of global significance. At around 2 centimeters of displacement per year, it flies by geological standards, making it one of the fastest moving faults in the world. As such, seismologists the world over monitor this fault with the enthusiasm that Dead Heads pour over their bootlegs. The San Andres Fault follows the South Coastal Mountains of the San Francisco peninsula, enters the Pacific at Mussels Rock Park in Daly City, re-enters the land at the Bolinas Lagoon, then re-enters the Pacific once again at the razor straight Tomales Bay. To the east, its principle offshoots, first the Calaveras fault, then Hayward, run along the foothills of the East Bay, through the cities of San Jose, Fremont, Hayward, San Leandro, Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Richmond before entering the San Pablo Bay and continuing on into Sonoma County. Between these two prongs, lies the Bay Area, along with the most densely populated areas of the Bay Area.
Between these two prongs, the music of the earth rings out as barely audible whispers, animated melodies, and the occasional raging cataclysmic cacophony. Since creativity and destruction are two sides of the same coin (in order to create anything, something must be destroyed, morphed, or transformed), those who get to feel the occasional shrugs of the earth, as Bay Area inhabitants bear witness, also gain valued, experiential insight into the dynamic, interdependent, creative universe in which we inhabit.