Nature Unleashed Exhibition Walk Through
For Immediate Release
Contact: Nancy O'Shea
(312) 665-7100 (For Media Use Only)
Exhibition Walk Through
Earthquakes and Volcanoes
Going Deep Inside the Earth for Answers
Over billions of years, our planet has been shaped by dynamic forces that are still operating today. To discover why these events occur, Nature Unleashed looks at what happens deep in the Earth's interior, where heat and pressure generate tremendous forces that cause the plates of the Earth's surface to crack and move. When the edges of these plates grind against, collide into, or pull apart from one another, the shape of the Earth's surface changes. We experience these changes as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake occurred when a segment of the San Andreas Fault, two plates that meet at California's western edge, suddenly snapped. Many buildings collapsed and a great fire virtually destroyed the city; nearly half of San Francisco's 450,000 residents were left homeless. The devastation of San Francisco had a tremendous impact on our understanding of how to prepare for and respond to earthquakes.
Twenty-first century technology, including seismographs and satellites, allows scientists to study, detect, and measure earthquakes. Seth Stein, PhD, of Northwestern University, one of the content specialists for the exhibition, believes the huge change in the study of seismology in recent years has been due to increasingly precise satellite technology that allows scientists to measure motions in the ground down to millimeters. Museum visitors can learn about the more than 100,000 earthquakes that occur across the globe each year through an interactive display that allows them to manipulate real-time earthquake data, such as location, time, magnitude, and depth.
What Triggers Earthquakes and Tsunamis?
Forces and Faults
Knowledge of plate tectonics—the movement and interaction of plates in the Earth's outer shell—is fundamental to understanding earthquakes. Movements along faults, sometimes as small as a fraction of an inch, introduce pressure and strain that can trigger earthquakes. Geologists study faults to predict where future earthquakes could occur. In the exhibition, interactive displays illustrate the properties of three different types of faults; rock specimens from The Field Museum's own collection show tangible evidence of this complex geological phenomenon.
Earthquakes that occur along faults in the ocean floor can trigger tsunamis—giant ocean waves that can cause extensive damage to coastal villages and cities. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 was one of the worse natural disasters in modern times, killing more than 200,000 people. To delve deeper into the forces behind tsunamis, Nature Unleashed lets visitors trigger a virtual underwater earthquake to see how a tsunami develops and spreads around the globe.
If you think natural disasters are a rare occurrence, think again. In fact, some places frequently experience these events. Papua New Guinea, an island nation, sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire," where edges of multiple plates of the Earth's surface meet on the ocean floor. About 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur in this area. Selected artifacts from The Field Museum's Sepik Coast collection illustrate the resilience of the inhabitants who have developed ways of adapting to these adverse conditions in one of the world's most seismically active environments.
Some of the most unusual earthquakes in history occurred in the United States in 1811 and 1812. The epicenter of the earthquakes was near New Madrid, Missouri. While earthquakes most often occur along boundary zones where plates meet, these mysterious earthquakes occurred along faults located in the middle of the plates. The effects were felt as far away as Canada, Boston, and New Orleans! While fatalities were exceptionally few, if any, in the New Madrid earthquakes, if a similar earthquake were to occur in that area today, millions of people would be affected. Nature Unleashed explores the complex scientific, political, and social issues involved in preparing whole communities for natural disasters by asking the question: How do we balance the needs and resources of a community against the need to prepare for an earthquake that may, or may not, ever come?
Mount Vesuvius, Krakatoa, Mount St. Helens, and Yellowstone
Without volcanoes, life on Earth would not exist. Volcanoes play a fundamental role in shaping our planet. The molten rock that flows or is violently ejected out of an erupting volcano becomes solidified into rock that forms a large part of the Earth's crust. Volcanoes also release gases and water vapor necessary for life. Exhibition visitors can learn about different types of volcanoes and the processes that lead to eruptions through three-dimensional displays and samples of different forms of lava.
The exhibition takes an in-depth look at some of the world's best known volcanoes. Key eruptions in history such as Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and Krakatoa in 1883, provide the starting point for visitors to come face to face with the many facets of this complex geological phenomenon. One of the highlights of Nature Unleashed is an engaging interactive display that lets visitors control levels of gas and silica in a volcano's magma to create their own virtual volcanic eruptions.
In 1883, Krakatoa, a cone-shaped volcano in Indonesia, erupted so violently that its peak exploded, sending ash almost seven miles up into the atmosphere and creating a large basin-like depression, or caldera. At the time, the sound of Krakatoa's eruption was described as the loudest ever heard. Today, we know that the Krakatoa, like most volcanoes, was the result of subduction—when one of Earth's plates is forced underneath another.
The enormous amounts of volcanic debris that can be released during an eruption can bury entire cities and civilizations. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy in 79 A.D. buried Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other nearby cities in lava and ash. A display of some of the Museum's rare artifacts from Pompeii demonstrate how volcanic ash destroyed the ancient city, while preserving it for later discovery. Despite this history of destruction, the modern city of Naples thrives at the foot of Mount. Vesuvius today. In fact, around the world, some half-a-billion people live in the shadow of historically active volcanoes.
Why take this risk? Even though volcanoes can destroy entire cities, people living near them often rely on the materials produced by volcanic eruptions. Volcanic soils are very fertile, providing nutrients to support the growth of crops, such as olives and grapes. The exhibition includes objects and products as diverse as soap, wine, and breath treats for cats collected from cities and villages where people believe the rewards of being near a volcano are worth the risk.
The eruptions of Krakatoa and Mount Vesuvius occurred unexpectedly, but today scientists are able to monitor volcanic activity. A device called a spider is lowered into active volcanoes to monitor deformation of the Earth's surface associated with impending eruptions, and transmits real-time data to scientists via satellite. Nature Unleashed shows a spider that was damaged while monitoring Mount St. Helens, proof of the powerful forces at work inside a volcanic crater.
Volcanoes also occur in the middle of plates in places called hot spots. An animation in the exhibition shows where and how magma from deep inside the Earth is forced up through the surface over very long periods of time. As a plate slowly moves over a hot spot, chains of islands or calderas form as eruptions occur. A hot spot that formed calderas in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming remains active today, existing as a simmering super volcano, releasing its heat and vapors as hot springs and geysers.
Hurricanes and Tornadoes
The Impact of Violent Weather
Although hurricanes are somewhat more predictable than tornadoes, both types of violent weather can have devastating impacts on human communities. Nature Unleashed presents compelling displays of two of the most infamous hurricanes in American history: Galveston in 1900 and Katrina in 2005.
Galveston and Katrina
Hurricanes are large, rotating wind systems that initially form over waters in tropical regions of the world. In 1900, a vicious hurricane struck Galveston, Texas, killing an estimated 8,000 people and completely devastating the city located on a narrow island strip. The Galveston hurricane is the deadliest natural disaster in our nation's history. Images and displays illustrate the ways in which it served as a turning point in our understanding of how to prepare for, and cope with, these enormous storm systems.
Since the Galveston tragedy, scientists have developed technologies to study hurricanes. Visitors will learn about advances in the study of hurricanes through interactive displays, artifacts and instruments like an early Fujita wheel used for viewing satellite imagery in motion and an anemometer used for measuring wind speed. Nature Unleashed explains how valuable information is collected by Hurricane Hunter aircraft that fly into the eye of a hurricane and drop data-collecting instruments called dropsondes. The information collected and transmitted includes air pressure, wind direction, speed, temperature, and humidity. This allows scientists to predict, almost minute-by-minute, the direction in which a hurricane will travel and whether it is gaining or losing strength.
Ask most Americans to name a devastating hurricane, and they'll probably say "Katrina." To explore the impact that hurricanes have on our lives, Nature Unleashed takes visitors to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Images, artifacts and first-hand audio accounts tell the stories of people directly affected by the disaster. Visitors can view everyday items are now part of history such as a New Orleans newspaper forecasting the upcoming storm, a clarinet left behind in the storm's wrath, and a water-stained poster showing the high-water mark inside a home.
By the time Katrina first hit land in southern Louisiana in August 2005, wind speeds were an estimated 125 miles an hour. Nature Unleashed shows the effects of the storm surge produced by Katrina, which was so strong that it broke the levees that protect New Orleans. Lying below sea level, the city was quickly devastated by tremendous flooding, with houses, schools, and government buildings under water for weeks and months. Through vivid photographs, visitors will see first-hand the devastation, desperation, and exhaustion in the human struggle for survival as well as the resilient spirit of the area's residents.
The seemingly dramatic increase in the number and severity of hurricanes in 2005 in comparison to years past has led many people to speculate that global warming and climate change have caused an increase in tropical storm activity. One interesting scientific study traces unique patterns in tree rings that are produced by changes in the chemical isotope composition of oxygen in the atmosphere. Visitors can examine the patterns of rings in a tree specimen collected from the Gulf Coast to learn about the cycles of hurricanes in the southeastern United States. Through this research, we can get a better understanding of the extent to which climate change impacts hurricane activity.
A Look Inside Deadly Winds
Although few people have deliberately faced the turbulent, deadly winds of a tornado, "storm chaser" Tim Samaras has studied tornadoes by putting himself in their paths and then deploying a custom-made data-collecting probe complete with cameras. Thrilling audio and video footage provided by Samaras is projected "in the round" to give visitors the opportunity to step into the path of an oncoming tornado. Here, on the screens that surround them, visitors can see and hear the tornado approaching and stare in awe at the destruction that it leaves behind. A probe that Samaras used to gather data provides insight into the technologies that have helped scientists understand the forces at work in a tornado.
Tornado Alley—an area spanning some nine states in the central United States—is the most active tornado region in the world. One of the worst tornadoes in the modern history occurred in this area on May 4, 2007 in Greensburg, Kansas. The tornado was one mile wide at its base and reached estimated winds of 205 miles an hour. It completely demolished the town. Photos of the devastation and objects collected from the site, including a tree stump completely stripped of its bark and impaled across the grain by a piece of metal, reveal the power and strength of the Greensburg tornado. Despite the devastation, citizens of Greensburg are finding ways to shed positive light on their losses. Shortly after the tornado, city officials and citizens began exploring the possibilities of rebuilding their city to fit the ideal model of a self-sustaining town.
As the exhibition concludes, visitors see present-day glimpses of the places they encountered that were, at one time or another, rocked by disaster. The images hold out the hopeful possibility that as destructive as these events can be, we are not powerless against them; that if we make the right choices, we might not only survive, but thrive.
Tickets to Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters include Museum admission and are priced at $22 for adults, $19 for seniors and students with ID, and $12 for children 4-11. Discounts are available for Chicago residents. Visit www.fieldmuseum.org or call 312-922-9410 for details.
The Field Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily except Christmas Day. Last tickets are sold at 4 pm. To purchase tickets visit fieldmuseum.org. Special rates are available for tour operators and groups of 15 or more. Call our Group Sales office toll-free at 888-FIELD-85 (888-343-5385).
Location and Travel Information
The Field Museum is located at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, on CTA bus lines #6, #12, and #146, and close to other routes and the Metra electric and South Shore lines. An indoor parking garage is located just steps from the main entrance. For more travel information, call the Illinois Department of Transportation, 312-368-4636, or the RTA Travel Center Hotline, (312) 836-7000.
Following its run at The Field Museum, Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters will travel to the Denver Museum of Natural Science, Denver (January 31, 2009-May 3, 2009); Liberty Science Center, Jersey City (May 30, 2009-January 3, 2010); Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta; (January 30, 2010-April 25, 2010); Durham Western Heritage Museum, Omaha (May 22-September 6, 2010); and Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul (October 1, 2011-January 1, 2012). There are also other pending venues that were not confirmed by print date. Please call for more information.