Adventures in the good science of rock-breaking.
Rosetta Stones Home

# Sunset Bay: Pacing a Puzzle

Planed off into two dimensions by erosion, geological features can be confusing. Some folks are talented at reconstructing the original three dimensions. I’m not one of those folks. I can build a world from scratch in my head, populate it with multi-dimensional people, but ask me to pop what amounts to a natural diagram out into the third dimension, and I’ll just stare blankly at you. I don’t even know where to begin.

This is why getting out with Lockwood is such a boon to my brain. He’s good at getting this stuff to pop. And Sunset Bay, Oregon provided an ideal example. Observe:

Seriously Bent

My first question was, what the hell bent that strata? That looks like a pretty sharp curve there. You can see it a little better in this next photo:

This area’s been stood on end, it’s riddled with faults, and the rocks have been placed under a good deal of stress. But Lockwood took one short look at that curve and said, “Look again.”

I looked. I had no idea what he was seeing. But he asked me to visualize it, imagine the strata not in two dimensions, but three. Cue blank look.

“It’s straight,” he said.

Cue blanker look.

“Imagine a sheet of plywood set against that layer,” he said.

Visualize Plywood

We took a walk across the bay to verify. That’s the neat thing about being out in the field: you can work this stuff out. It’s not abstract. All you have to do is follow the strata.

Across the Bay

You can walk a problem out, which helps you reconstruct it in your mind.

Pacing the Puzzle

The more resistant layer remained visible, with just a few places where it had been planed down and covered by sand, all the way across. And at the end…

Ah-ha Moment

We’d reached a place where the standing strata hadn’t been completely planed off by the waves. Here, you can see in three dimensions, that one resistant layer standing out tall and proud, and demonstrating that while it was tilted, it wasn’t kinked.

Another View

Sometimes, you don’t even need to visualize plywood sheets. All you have to do is walk a few hundred yards. And then it all becomes clear.

Looking Back

This was a nice little demonstration that nature, like art, can sometimes present a trompe l’oeil. You have to imagine in three dimensions to see the trick. And if, like me, you don’t carry around sheets of plywood and have trouble with seeing the third dimension, you can always just use yourself.

Be the Plywood

The more of this sort o’ thing I see, the easier it becomes to recognize illusions and visualize the way things really are. It’s just a matter of training ye olde brain. This stuff may seem impossibly difficult at first, but with practice, it gets easier, until you can, like Lockwood, tell at a glance when things are really bent and when they’re merely just fooling around.

Originally published at En Tequila Es Verdad.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

 Previous: Tuesday Tune: Geology Rocks MoreRosetta Stones Next: How About an Eruption With Your Dinner?

Rights & Permissions

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.