Iconography of Disaster

Tsunami!

Tsunami!

The July Accretionary Wedge on geologic and geographic signs gave me the excuse to finally share my collection of warning signs. I have a soft spot for the iconography of disaster, and the difficulty of sharing vital information in a manner that will save lives even without local-language comprehension. For example, tsunami evacuation routes have consistent signage around the world. Sure, tsunami don’t have nice curly cresting waves, but it makes a highly recognizable icon.

Most warning signs feature a stick-figure getting into all sorts of trouble. I have a great deal of sympathy for danger-man, always tumbling, slipping, getting washed away, or having rocks dropped on him.

I’ve collected a substantial set of photos of geologists wandering on the wrong side of No Trespassing! signs, hanging out under unstable slopes to check out the bedding, or casually disobeying the hazard signs to get a better look at a particularly nice exposure. In an effort to not incriminate my friends and colleagues, I’ll post a single example of this genre of geosign: a foray of geologists utterly ignoring directions to the pretty viewpoint.

Obedient geologists.

Obedient geologists.

The Bicheno Blowhole in Tasmania is an outcrop of granite amidst sandy beaches, where the rock concentrates waves into jets. Although very pretty, I’m amused that onlookers require warnings that oceans have waves, and wet rocks are slippery. Then again, Australia isn’t the only place to warn that wet things are slippery: I found a warning that docks are wet, and wet wood is slippery, in Prince Rupert, BC.

Array of warning signs

Array of warning signs

Even when advertising less-obvious hazards, not all signs are useful. Sometimes the warning is lost is a proliferation of cautions, muting the message. From sheer number of signs (duplicated on the far side), I’m starting to believe this may be the most dangerous bridge in the world.

Even the center of Australia is not safe from warnings. This floodway sign is the only obstruction to a flat horizon in all directions.

Floodway

Floodway

While the desolate horizon of the floodway warning undercuts its message of flash-flood hazards, sometimes the context of the sign speaks so much louder than the sign itself.

When not directly warning of a geologic hazard, warning signs can borrow from the visceral reaction sparked by a natural catastrophe for more anthropocentric risks. The sidewalks of Auckland, New Zealand are in an active volcanic field, a fact the local government is using to startle pedestrians into looking up before strolling into traffic.

Jaywalking = volcanic fissure.

Jaywalking = volcanic fissure.

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