As part of a National Science Foundation initiative called EarthScope, 43 earthquake recording stations will be placed in Missouri and southern Iowa in 2010-2011. Dr. Stephen Gao, a seismologist in the geology and geophysics program at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is working with four students from Missouri universities to conduct field surveys and identify locations for the stations.
This summer, Gao and the four students are analyzing various geographic data sets and assessing potential sites. Their work is funded by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.
Since 2004, an array of 400 seismometers has been slowly moving across the United States, from west to east. The stations are in place for two years, and then they are moved eastward. In addition to recording data on earthquakes, scientists can gather important information about the Earth's inner structure. Seconds after a significant earthquake, geophysicists around the world can access the information recorded by each of the stations to learn more about that part of the Earth.
"To see inside the Earth, geophysicists employ a set of computer-intensive techniques," Gao explains. "One of these methods, seismic tomography, is similar to a CAT scan used by doctors to map the human body. Rather than using X-rays, geophysicists use seismic waves."
Processes occurring in the Earth's interior create surface formations, including mountain chains and ocean basins, and cause devastating earthquakes like the ones that occurred in 1811-1812 in southeastern Missouri.
"The EarthScope project will provide us with critical information about the Earth's internal processes, and will eventually lead to a significant reduction in losses from natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes," Gao says.
Two of the students working with Gao are finishing geology and geophysics degrees at Missouri S&T: Trevor Bollmann, a senior from Ava, Ill., and Ben Williams, a graduate student from St. Louis. The other students are Katrina Burch of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Alicia Metzger of Missouri State University.
"We welcome assistance and cooperation from property owners within the targeted areas," Gao says.
Detailed information about the project, including a list of potential station sites, is available at http://web.mst.edu/~sgao/USArray.