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Geology and Art Connect at UW Light Rail Station

Published on March 29, 2016

A view of the the station prior to opening.
Image Credit: Photo by Sound Transit

Tens of thousands of people will pass through the new University of

Washington light rail station that opened this week. While most riders
will focus on their destination, they may also learn something as they
pass through the station.

“Subterranium,” by UW alumnus Leo Saul Berk, lines the walls with 6,000 unique backlit panels inspired by the geology of the site that was excavated to create the station.

UW geologist Alison Duvall,
a UW assistant professor of Earth and space sciences, provided an
accompanying narration. She met with a Sound Transit employee in January
and talked about her research, the history of the station site, and her
impressions of the station’s geology-themed art installation.

stretches from the ceiling all the way down, so as you go down the
escalator it captures what it’s like going into the deeper geologic
units,” Duvall said.

The narration played March 19 during opening
day, when riders had their first opportunity to travel down to the
station and on the new rail line. You can play the 15-minute clip
yourself as you walk through the station:

“If you went to most
places on Earth, the geology wouldn’t be very complex in such a small
little footprint,” Duvall said. “But what’s exciting about our area is
that, because of the ice cap coming in and out and depositing all these
different materials, we get diversity and nonconformity in just a small
window. So there’s quite a lot happening there.”

Duvall saw
evidence in the soil cores from the station site of at least two ice
sheets from British Columbia advancing and retreating and leaving
different materials in their wake. Studies show that the Pacific
Northwest has experienced six or seven glacial-interglacial cycles.

think the artist did a really good job of capturing the nonconformity
and complexity of where one geologic unit stops and another starts,”
Duvall said. “This is very different from the traditional geological
layer cake, like you would see in the Grand Canyon.”

She was
interested that Berk’s piece includes some common geologic symbols, such
as small dots for finer sediment and open circles for large cobbles,
but that he invented some of his own, such as the horseshoes that appear
on some panels.

The station is now providing travel options that some predict could could transform Seattle.
Many people hope this new connection to the UW will shorten commutes
and relieve traffic congestion. For her part, Duvall hopes it prompts
new appreciation for what lies beneath.

“I hope that riders will
stop and think: ‘Wait a minute, yeah, there is a whole record under the
Earth’s surface that is an archive of all these things that have
happened in the past, ‘” Duvall said. “And hopefully they will learn a
little something about the place they live.”

Article by Hannah Hickey, courtesy of UW Today

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