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Resonance At Rainbow Bridge Brings Icon Alive

Jeffrey Moore
University of Utah Department of Geology and Geophysics
Research conducted over two days last year at Rainbow Bridge could someday be used to determine its risk of collapse and whether activities like drilling nearby could harm the sandstone formation.

Geologist Jeffrey Moore led a team to Rainbow Bridge last year to listen to the sandstone mass. The researchers used seismic sensors the size of coffee cups to detect vibrations from the famous arch. The sensors even let them hear the rock itself gently swaying in the canyon winds and earthquakes.

“We’re just beginning to unravel what it is that they are responding to,” said Moore, a geology and geophysics professor at the University of Utah.

“And ultimately this begs the question of what are the effects of all these different sources of energy.”

This new research from geologists at the University of Utah gives the Rainbow Bridge a voice, illustrating how the iconic rock formation is holding up and how it reacts to surrounding forces.

All objects resonate, and vibrational waves have been used to test the strength of bridges and buildings for decades. Now Moore’s team is using the same tools to understand rock arches. The most recent study found that Rainbow Bridge vibrates up and down, forward and back, and it twists.

And the geologist hopes that someday studies like this can reveal when arches are in danger from outside forces and when they might be dangerous to people visiting them. Moore says the research shows that arches are constantly moving.

“This is happening very dynamically,” he says. “We just can’t see it. We’re hoping to give people a new sense of the lively, dynamic nature of these features, to see them in a new light.”

The paper is published in the journal, Geophysical Research Letters. And the team has posted a 3-D simulation that represents some of its findings.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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