While the world saw the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake one way, geologists at UC Davis saw it through new 3-D virtual reality equipment that looks a lot like a video game. Using three walls to create interactive images gathered by laser light pulses, they are able to study how earth surfaces get broken during earthquakes.
"We can make geological observations without going to the field," said geologist Eric Cowgill, Ph.D.
In fact, scientists can run, or even fly, through several miles of land in a matter of seconds on the screen, which can take hours or days on foot.
The hope is this new visualization will improve the understanding of how faults work and behave and allow better prediction of a fault's seismic hazard.
Data from the Haiti and Mexicali earthquakes are giving scientists a better sense of what could be possible in California.
Professor Michael Oskin, for instance, can actually measure how much Wallace Creek, along the San Andreas Fault, has changed with each shaker.
"Every earthquake takes this little stream and drags it along the fault a little bit more. This is a way of us trying to infer what can happen in the future from the recent past," said Oskin. "So that goes directly into how we calculate seismic hazard, which ultimately affects say, your insurance rates on your house , or whether you're going to build a nuclear power plant."
As cool as this is in the earthquake world, it still does not do the one thing we would all like to know --- when will the "big one" hit?