Fault Line Living with Rohan

Serena Davies, Tamsin Davies and Adam Whitaker at Land Rover Experience

Rohan & Fault Line Living

Fault Line Living are winners of the 2010 ‘Go Beyond’ bursary from the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Land Rover – a bursary designed to raise awareness of an aspect of Geography, as well as encourage participants to ‘go beyond’ their normal experiences.

Over the next 3 months we’ll undertake a 15,000-mile journey from Iceland to Iran, documenting the lives of people living along fault lines.

Along the way we’ll be talking to scientists, geologists, seismologists, town planners, residents and school kids to get a in-depth understanding of what life is like in these seismically active areas.

Does the threat of an imminent earthquake hang heavy in the air? Do kids know an evacuation procedure before they know a nursery rhyme? Have divorce rates gone up in seismically active areas? Have geologists come under unfair legal scrutiny? How do different attitudes differ from one country to the next – where factors such as political sway, financial investment, and above all knowledge vary dramatically from country to country.

Our aim is to create an understanding of how different communities adapt and co-exist with geography, as well as to raise awareness of the these communities outside of the media spotlight which usually only shines on them in times of disaster.

As to be expected, with a trip like this, we have a phenomenal amount of equipment with us.

One of our most vital bits of kit is undoubtedly our seismometer which enables us to do earthquake readings most nights and get a sense of how earthquake prone the area we are driving through is.

The nature of this project means we are trying to drive as close as possible to fault lines themselves, shunning motorways and visiting remote communities that are hard to find, or driving to ruptures and fissures in the land, that are visible evidence of the turbulence in the earth below.

The journey so far…

So far our journey has taken us from the UK to Iceland, our first destination, where we came half expecting the small country to be still covered in ash but so far not. Up north there’s no sign of the chaos caused by the Eyjafjallajokull volcano which erupted 200 km further south.

Farms are few and far between here and that significantly reduces the impact that volcanic and earthquake activity can have on a community, but for the landscape it’s a different matter.

The geography here is a constantly changing and scarred testimony to the dramatic scene playing out beneath our feet but the people themselves are stoic, down to earth and not prone to the histrionics.

The Icelanders we’ve met have a strong connection with the landscape. They’re proud of where they live and almost blasé about the threat hanging over them. Fault line living here creates a shared identity and a common bond. It brings communities together and fuels a strong patriotism. This will probably be unique to Iceland – there’s not one corner of the country which doesn’t reflect Iceland’s position on a rift that is splitting the country in half 2 centimetres a year.

There’s no doubt we’ve started our journey in a place which is superbly adapted to fault line living. With a population of just 300,000 there have been no tragedies here on the scale of Izmit or L’Aquila. The Mid-Atlantic ridge and the 10,000 year history of constant seismic activity has created a land of which only 30% is inhabitable but the quality of life in the inhabitable bits is high and that’s post the bank crisis of 2008.

About 66%* of the primary energy supply in Iceland is provided by geothermal energy. We visited one of Iceland’s 5 geothermal power stations – it is powered by the epic Krafla volcano and is a futuristic sight.

Nestling in the foothills of that mighty set up are a bizarre series of metal “lids” that open up into the ground…underneath them just a few feet into the volcanic ground bread is baking. The cottage industry is perfectly juxtaposed against the power station; both harnessing the same power for different ends.

Further on in our journey we witnessed numerous examples of Iceland’s creative use of its geo-thermal energy – cinder blocks being made, pavements de-iced in the winter, hot bathing pools, and many fruits and vegetables such as avocados, tomatoes and even pomegranates being grown in geo-thermal greenhouses.

Yes Iceland is idyllic on many levels and a privileged country. The situation here is not the norm for those who live on fault lines, but so far what has been so inspirational and truly gives Iceland its “model for the future” feel is that life here is dictated by the earth and not the other way around.

Italian by nature

Our next port of call after Iceland was Italy, a country riddled with fault lines and one that has suffered many catastrophic earthquakes in recent times.

In Italy, we’ve focused most of our attention on the city of L’Aquila, central Italy which was struck by a 6.3m earthquake in April 2009. 308 people died and over 65,000 people were forced to decamp to temporary tented cities, coastal resorts and even empty trains, in what was to become one of Italy’s most catastrophic natural disasters in recent times.

With the help of Dr Gerald Roberts from Birkbeck, University of London, and Eutizio Vittori from the Geological Survey of Italy, we were able to gain access into the ‘red zone’ – a forbidden area in the center of the city still completely abandoned a year and half since the earthquake.

Washing blows in the wind long since dried, a child’s toy lies abandoned in a pile of rubble, an entire bathroom hangs at an impossible angle from a decimated apartment block. On every street corner are the haunting signs of a city abandoned in minutes, as people fled their houses in the early hours of the morning.

Walking around the red zone, it’s hard to picture the city in all its former glory. Once charming piazzas now resemble building sites with piles of masonry stacked high. Rows of portaloos line the streets. Beautiful medieval houses are propped up with complex scaffolding and wooden beams. A stunning 13th century church, riddled with cracks and holes is defying all odds to remain upright.

Most striking of all however, is the fact that these buildings are people’s homes. People have planned to carry out their lives here, and now, whilst these people aren’t technically homeless, they are demanding their homes back. Here lies the difference between a house and a home. These people have been rehoused but they want their homes back

Eutizio helped us understand the broader context around the issue of restoration, L’Aquila is one of many towns which are close to fault lines in Italy:

The restoration of L’Aquila requires a lot of money but this is the same for many towns in Central and Southern Italy. Why to intervene in L’Aquila or Naples or in other towns in Sicily and so on? Where to start? But we have to start. We have to take action. We still haven’t taken direct action here. We are still lagging behind and we have to be faster because an earthquake can arrive at any moment.”


With an estimated 11,000 buildings needing reconstruction, the question quickly becomes what is the future for such a place?

Fearing their city might become a latter-day Pompeii, the locals have staged numerous sit-ins and vigils to galvanise the government into taking action. Certainly from an outsider’s perspective the sheer scale of the restoration effort seems insurmountable, but there was precious hope from Eutizio:

The future for L’Aquila in one sense is certain. I am completely positive that this town will be rebuilt and restored as it was before. I am sure of this because the people of L’Aquila deserve this. I don’t think they will give up. But to say when this will happen is difficult. Action has been taken, work is going on, but the real job of the restoration is what people want. If other problems in the country arrive, then maybe L’Aquila will remain behind, but I am sure it will happen in the end. L’Aquila will again be the beautiful historical town it was before the earthquake”


Onwards to Greece

This brings us to Greece where we are now ensconced in the beautiful and friendly coastal town of Nafpaktos – where the locals are so used to earthquakes they don’t even notice the two or three earthquakes they have a year. They don’t think twice about sleeping in their cars or just heading out to the local bars for a drink if an earthquake warning comes.

Our next stop is Athens where we’ll be visiting two schools to get a kids’ perspective on earthquakes and see them run through their evacuation drills. We’ll also be meeting Ionnis, a renowned geologist who will help us understand more about the uniquely Greek perspective of living on a fault line.

Check out the teams Rohan kit list:

Rohan Men’s Bag Shorts
Rohan Men’s Bags Trousers
Rohan Women’s Roamers
Rohan Women’s Dryliners
Rohan Women’s Windshadow Jacket
Rphan Women’s High Ground Hoody’s
Rohan Montgomery Convertible Hats
Rohan Buff

Read more about Faultline Living

Find out more about the Go Beyond bursary

Gift YOUR Gear it belongs outdoors

Comments are closed.