PBO Nucleus Project Status: Integration of 209 Existing GPS Stations into the Plate Boundary Observatory. Abstract


  • Tectonic and earthquake research in the US has experienced a quiet revolution over the last decade precipitated by the recognition that slow-motion faulting events can both trigger and be triggered by regular earthquakes. Transient motion has now been found in essentially all tectonic environments, and the detection and analysis of such events is the first-order science target of the EarthScope Project. Because of this and a host of other fundamental tectonics questions that can be answered only with long-duration geodetic time series, the incipient 1400-station EarthScope Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) network has been designed to leverage 432 existing continuous GPS stations whose measurements extend back over a decade. The irreplaceable recording history of these stations is accelerating EarthScope scientific return by providing the highest possible resolution. This resolution will be used to detect and understand transients, to determine the three-dimensional velocity field (particularly vertical motion), and to improve measurement precision by understanding the complex noise sources inherent in GPS. The PBO Nucleus project supports the operation, maintenance and hardware upgrades of a subset of the six western U.S. geodetic networks until they are subsumed by PBO. Uninterrupted data flow from these stations will effectively double the time-series length of PBO over the expected life of EarthScope, and has created, for the first time, a single GPS-based geodetic network in the US. The other existing sites remain in operation under support from non-NSF sources (e.g. the USGS), and EarthScope continues to benefit from their continued operation. On the grounds of relevance to EarthScope science goals, geographic distribution and data quality, 209 of the 432 existing stations were selected as the nucleus upon which to build PBO. Conversion of these stations to a PBO-compatible mode of operation was begun under previous funding, and as a result data now flow directly to PBO archives and processing centers while maintenance, operations, and meta-data requirements are continuing to be upgraded to PBO standards. At the end of this project all 209 stations will be fully incorporated into PBO, meeting all standards for new PBO construction including data communications and land use permits. Funds for operation of these stations have been included in planned budgets for PBO after the construction phase ends and PBO begins an operational phase in 2008. To date approximately 150 of the 209 stations have been completely upgraded, and data flow from all stations is incorporated into the PBO data analysis flow. The community has only begun to understand the pervasive effects of transient creep, and its societal consequences remained largely unexplored. For example, one open question is whether slow faulting pervasively moderates earthquake nucleation. The existence of slow earthquakes will impact seismic hazards estimation, since these transients are now known to 'absorb' a significant component of total slip in some regions and trigger earthquakes in others. The data from these stations serve a much larger audience than just the few people who work to keep them operating. This project is now collecting the data that will be used by the next generation of solid-earth researchers for at least two decades. Educational modules are being developed by a team of researchers, educators, and curriculum development professionals, and are being disseminated through regional and national workshops. An interactive website provides the newest developments in tectonics research to K-16 classrooms.

publication date

  • 2006

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