UW Today

March 25, 2016

Geology and art connect at UW light rail station

News and Information

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.

station interior with blue walls

Sound Transit UW Station prior to opening, 30 November 2015.Sound Transit

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.

“It 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.

“I 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.”

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For more information, contact Duvall at 206-221-8311 or aduvall@uw.edu.

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