Moving Closer to EarthScope: A Major New Initiative for the Earth Sciences* Abstract


  • EarthScope is a scientific research and infrastructure initiative designed to provide a suite of new observational facilities to address fundamental questions about the evolution of continents and the processes responsible for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The integrated observing systems that will comprise EarthScope capitalize on recent developments in sensor technology and communications to provide Earth scientists with synoptic and high-resolution data derived from a variety of geophysical sensors. An array of 400 broadband seismometers will spend more than ten years crossing the contiguous 48 states and Alaska to image features that make up the internal structure of the continent and underlying mantle. Additional seismic and electromagnetic instrumentation will be available for high resolution imaging of geological targets of special interest. A network of continuously recording Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and sensitive borehole strainmeters will be installed along the western U.S. plate boundary. These sensors will measure how western North America is deforming, what motions occur along faults, how earthquakes start, and how magma flows beneath active volcanoes. A four-kilometer deep observatory bored directly into the San Andreas fault will provide the first opportunity to observe directly the conditions under which earthquakes occur, to collect fault rocks and fluids for laboratory study, and to monitor continuously an active fault zone at depth. All data from the EarthScope facilities will be openly available in real-time to maximize participation from the scientific community and to provide on-going educational outreach to students and the public. EarthScope's sensors will revolutionize observational Earth science in terms of the quantity, quality and spatial extent of the data they provide. Turning these data into exciting scientific discovery will require new modes of experimentation and interdisciplinary cooperation from the Earth science community. A broad sector of the university research community has joined with federal agencies to stimulate the development of facility plans and move EarthScope forward as a coordinated national initiative. With strong prospects for funding next year, the time is right for bold new ideas on how to maximize the use of these powerful new resources in the Earth scientist's toolkit. * On behalf of the EarthScope Working Group


publication date

  • 2002

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