Arizona State University to host EarthScope National Office

Arizona State University to host EarthScope National Office

Arizona State University has been selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the new host university for the EarthScope National Office. The EarthScope program centers on exploration and discovery of the 4-D structure and evolution of the North American continent, but also encompasses studies of Earth structure and dynamics throughout the planet. The rotating, university-based national office, established through a four-year nearly $2.4 million grant, facilitates scientific planning and coordinates education and outreach efforts for the EarthScope community.

EarthScope is an NSF program that deploys thousands of seismic, GPS, and other geophysical instruments to contribute to our understanding of our dynamic Earth, North America specifically, and the processes that cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. These instruments installed across the United States measure the motion of Earth’s surface, record seismic waves, and recover rock samples from depths at which earthquakes originate. These instruments along with EarthScope’s high resolution topography and geochronology efforts provide an unprecedented amount of geophysical and geological data to address the processes that formed and continue to shape North America. Their analysis is conducted by the EarthScope community in remarkably interdisciplinary ways.

“EarthScope gives us an unprecedented view of the earth’s structure and processes and the scientific community gathered around these data and research questions innovatively answers some of the most outstanding questions in the Earth sciences,” says Ramón Arrowsmith, the new director of the EarthScope National Office (ENSO) and a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) in Arizona State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“ASU is a particularly attractive site for the EarthScope national office because of the breadth and depth of EarthScope-type studies here,” explains Arrowsmith. “The unique combination of the expertise and experience of the project team coupled with ASU’s fertile academic and research environment and expanding facilities makes bringing the ESNO to ASU an exceptional fit for the next phase of EarthScope. Our PI team has been involved with EarthScope since its inception.”

Joining Arrowsmith is geoscience education researcher Steve Semken, also a professor in SESE, who will be the deputy director in charge of leading new education and outreach activity for EarthScope. SESE professors Ed Garnero and Matt Fouch will serve as EarthScope principal investigators. Wendy Taylor is also a principal investigator and will be the education and outreach (E&O) program coordinator. Several other ASU researchers with geoscience backgrounds also will be involved, as will undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.

The nucleus of the program is the EarthScope Facility, a multi-purpose array of instruments and observatories consisting of the Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO), the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD), and the USArray. Arrowsmith and his students have examined the geologic framework of SAFOD, which is a 3-kilometer deep hole drilled directly into the San Andreas Fault that is providing the first opportunity to directly observe the conditions under which earthquakes occur. In addition, they have developed important analysis and delivery tools for the high resolution topography gathered along active faults in western North America by EarthScope. Fouch and Garnero are heavily involved with USArray, an array of 400 portable seismometers deployed across the United States over a 12-year period, allowing seismologists to see deep in Earth with much sharper focus than ever before. PBO, consisting of arrays of GPS receivers and strainmeters, studies the strain field resulting from deformation across the boundary zone between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates in the western United States.

EarthScope science is notable for its interdisciplinary research, another reason it fits so well with the School of Earth and Space Exploration, which is itself a transdisciplinary environment that melds astronomy and geological sciences with engineering and education. Science results from EarthScope go beyond narrow analyses of individual datasets, and combine diverse observational datasets with innovative experimental and theoretical exploration. These results produce transformative knowledge for studying earth's structures and processes and in understanding hazards and guiding exploration of resources. In addition, these data and technologies offer superb opportunities to enhance formal and informal science education in the solid Earth sciences.

EarthScope provides a unique opportunity for students, teachers, and the public to participate in a national experiment going on in their own backyard, and regularly brings Earth science educators together with geoscientists to ensure that EarthScope data and findings are quickly and efficiently shared with wide audiences. One of the principal functions of the ESNO is to connect EarthScope researchers with educators and the public, and to share the excitement of cutting-edge research and findings through a multifaceted E&O program.

The ASU team is acutely aware of the importance of E&O, and the opportunities for the ESNO to play a major role in working with the earth science community to advance and innovate E&O. Constituents of SESE have a long history of sustained and meaningful science education research and outreach. The ESNO at ASU will also spearhead EarthScope as a national resource for place-based Earth science teaching at all grade levels.

“Place-based teaching is an approach that engages diverse students by focusing on teaching examples and scientific questions that are drawn directly from local surroundings,” explains Semken. “EarthScope research is being conducted at an unprecedented fine scale across the continent, uncovering Earth features, processes, and history beneath every place, including those regions where the surface expression of geology is more subtle. These new data are superb resources for place-based Earth science teaching, and the ESNO at ASU will enthusiastically advocate and facilitate their use by K-12 and college teachers.”

According to Arrowsmith and Semken, another key selling point for getting the national office at ASU was that ESNO would be housed in the school’s new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, which is designed with education and outreach as a central theme. The ground floor lobby is dominated by exhibition and teaching spaces, including some to be dedicated to EarthScope that will feature dynamic displays such as large flat-screen presentations of real-time seismic and other geophysical data, and interactive Earth science exhibits freely accessible to members of the ASU community, K-12 student and teacher visitors, and the general public.

More information on EarthScope is available online at: www.earthscope.org

 

Image: Petrified Forest, one of the USArray stations. Image courtesy of Steve Semken.

 

(Nikki Cassis)

 

Release Date: 
05/09/2011
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