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Earth-shaking Science

May 28, 2009

Baylor University scientists are playing a role in an on-going nationwide effort to image Earth beneath North America and map the country's seismic activity.

The Baylor scientists and their research teams have found suitable locations for 21 seismographs in Central Texas and will play "host" to two additional seismic stations as part of EarthScope, the largest geoscience project ever funded by the federal government. In addition, the Baylor scientists installed a 70-station network focused on the Rio Grande Rift, a rift valley extending north from Mexico near El Paso, through New Mexico and into central Colorado. The program involves the National Science Foundation, the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA and hundreds of geoscientists from universities around the country.

"We are proud that Baylor is part of the effort to collect the most detailed picture of the structure of the North American continent ever attempted," said Dr. Jay Pulliam, professor of geophysics who helped bring EarthScope to Baylor. "This work will provide research opportunities for graduate, undergraduate and even gifted local high-school students."

The work was funded by an EarthScope grant to Baylor's Center for Spatial Research, an interdisciplinary center that fosters the use of spatial technologies in research and teaching.

Funding to install and maintain these stations is provided by EarthScope. After the U.S. Array project ends in 2013, the two stations will become a permanent part of the national seismic network that is operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. The seismographs are already operational and even recorded seismic waves from the earthquake that devastated central Italy on April 6. Baylor geoscientists and their students can use data recorded at these stations to study the Earth's structure beneath Texas.

"For any geoscientist interested in earthquakes, plate tectonics, or the structure and evolution of the North American continent, participation in EarthScope is a magnificent opportunity," said Dr. Vincent Cronin, professor of geology at Baylor and director of Baylor's Center for Spatial Research. "EarthScope brings geoscientists together in working groups as no project has before, leading to a revolution in our understanding of Earth in general and the North American continent in particular."

The Baylor researchers will use geophysical data generated by EarthScope and other projects to help them recognize potentially dangerous faults that can produce earthquakes and to learn about the processes by which our continent is evolving. The two reference seismograph stations that Baylor now hosts are among the hundreds of seismographs that contribute information to the national database.

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