Broadly speaking, seismology can be separated into two subfields. The first is the study of earthquake and earthquake hazards, and the second uses elastic waves propagating (usually from earthquakes) in the earth to investigate the structure of the earth. While I am interested in earthquake processes, my main research focus is on the latter subfield. In particular, I am interested in using seismology, geophysics, petrology, geochemistry, and other methods to understand the flow, composition, temperature, strength, and evolution of the earth’s tectonic plates and deeper mantle.
For more information, please see Research Details.
Significance of My Research
It is very difficult to get any basic scientific research funded through governmental organizations, so any grant-funded work implies the endorsement of a committee of scientific peers. Broadly speaking, my research addresses scientific topics determined to be important from various community studies. Some documents that outline these things are:
- Seismological Grand Challenges in Understanding Earth’s Dynamic Systems
- Unlocking the Secrets of the North American Continent: Science Plan for 2010-2020
Society faces a range of challanges related to geosciences, including: earthquake hazards, volcanic hazards, climate change, and induced earthquakes, faces society. My research enables me to learn more about these problems, and (often more importantly) educate the public and students in the science behind these topics. Below, I’ve set out a few thoughts on the relevance of my grant-funded work. Each project will vary in it’s impact to society, but there are some common points for all of my research,
- The National Science Foundation tries to assess the public importance of a project in terms of it’s “Broader Impacts.” This is considered to be equally as significant as the scientific importance of a project. So an NSF proposal will not be funded unless the research has some sort of public relevance as assessed by a panel of scientific peers.
- In a broader sense, basic scientific research has a huge economic pay-off; estimates are in excess of > 10%. For a series of examples see the National Academy series Beyond Discovery.
- The geophysics and seismology I do tells us about the cycling of chemicals such as CO2 and water in the earth. This is important for understanding how the earth has changed with time; for instance, why the climate may have been different in the past.
- More specifically, my research bears different structures in the earth’s crust and mantle. Knowing these tells us how much earthquake energy may arrive at a given location; this also helps us better estimate the locations of nuclear bomb tests. Knowing the structure of the earth can allow us to better estimate the causes of mine collapses or improve the accuracy of earthquake locations–which in turn is important for understanding induced earthquakes.
- By all accounts, there is a huge need for new geophysicists in the oil and gas industry, and the graduate training that a funded grant enables gives students the experience they need to get hired. Funded geophysical research, even if it is not specific to oil and gas exploration, gives students real and significant economic opportunities. Moreover, the high salaries these graduates make then more than pays for the initial investment in their training by way of increased tax revenues.