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July 16, 2018

Rock arches are singing and scientists are listening

Geologists tune into the vibrations of natural arches to help assess structural integrity and possible collapse

A University of Utah research team is perfectly situated to study rock arches. Arches National Park in Utah has thousands of them, including one of the longest in the world, spanning 290 feet -- Landscape Arch.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), geologist Jeff Moore and his team at the University of Utah are pioneering a new method of structural health monitoring to keep tabs on the structural integrity of these spectacular geological landmarks. The researchers have discovered that each arch has its own "voice," because it naturally vibrates, like a guitar string, with its own distinct resonant frequency. Natural rock arches and bridges may appear to be stationary, but they are in constant motion and impacted by seismic sources hundreds of miles away or even helicopters flying close-by.

The team's research has important implications for the conservation and management of these dynamic natural structures, which are so symbolic of the U.S. western landscape.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1424896 Structural Monitoring of Rock Arches.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.