research interests & opportunities

A map of the severity of shaking following the 2018 M7.1 Anchorage earthquake. This shakemap blended instrumental recordings of the ground motion together with estimates from prediction equations to characterize where the earthquake's impacts should be strongest.

ground motion and early earthquake warning

In the seconds following a major earthquake, the only question that really matters is where will the strongest shaking occur? Having the right answer can save lives. However, this answer requires not only rapid warning, but also an ability to accurately forecast the severity of the shaking, or ground motion. Considerable progress has been made across the globe toward meaningful earthquake early warning. Alaska has some unusual challenges for early warning. The frequency of large earthquakes, however, also make it an ideal testbed for new techniques. These data provide a wealth of research opportunities not only in early warning but in the ability to make meaningful estimates of ground motion across tectonically diverse regions. Several substantial projects exist to address both the ground motion questions as well as the related earthquake early warning aspects.

he 45-station Arctic network shown in red. Most sites contain a seismometer, weather station, infrasound sensor, and soil temperature probe enabling a rare mix of multidisciplinary studies.

The Arctic network

This project is providing the one of the first broad-scale seismic investigations of the U.S. Arctic. While historically we do not think of seismicity being directly connected to climate and the environment, it is. Arctic temperatures are increasing at more than twice the global average. Sea ice is shrinking. Permafrost is thawing. Wildfire is extending into areas that previously did not burn. Glaciers are retreating. Changes in landslides, sea ice, weather, and micro-seismicity all leave signatures in the seismic record. This project repurposed 45 multi-sensor USArray stations to track environmental change across a region where monitoring is sparse at best, and nonexistent in many places. Broadband seismic sensors track earthquake and other activity. Meteorological sensors fill major holes in weather and climate observations. Soil temperature probes track the progressive warming of the soil and decay of permafrost. And infrasound sensors connect the solid earthquake with the atmosphere. This facility is unusual because of its large geographic extent, grid-like spacing, and the assemblage of sensor types. Opportunities for seismic research focus on enigmatic earthquake swarms, seasonal weather & sea ice noise, and analysis of seismic events from farther north in the Arctic.

Seismic monitoring station across from the creeping fjord wall in Barry Arm. As the glacier in the valley below has retreated over the past few decades, the rock slope has become destabilized and has creeped several hundred meters. If this slide were to fail suddenly, the resulting tsunami could be among the largest recorded.

Landslide and glacier seismology

Landslide and glacier activity is recorded routinely across the Alaska seismic network. Though these signals can be a nuisance for earthquake monitoring, they provide a unique long-term view of the changing environment. Considerable research over the past decade has built a strong foundation for interpretation the signals from tidewater glaciers. Numerous fundamental mysteries remain however. In the past few years it has also become apparent that retreating glaciers are likely destabilizing fjord walls and increasing the potential for massive landslides. These landslides presents a unique tsunami threat to coastal Alaska. Research into this hazard is in its infancy but significant new datasets are making this research possible.

P-wave from a North Korea nuclear explosion (right) recorded on permanent a seismic array in central Alaska (left). The propagation of the signal across the array can be used to discern the direction and approximate distance to the source.

Array seismology

Alaska is home to four permanent arrays designed specifically for tracking seismic activity across the globe. Though these facilities were designed to enhance the nation's nuclear monitoring capabilities, they provide unique monitoring capabilities in Alaska. We have recently begun investigating the utility of these arrays for tracking and deciphering seismic events across Alaska. Funding through the new Geophysical Institute UARC has provided a foundation in array seismology that we are now turning toward other applications. Research opportunities include applying array processing techniques to everything from earthquake swarms and mine blasts to major aftershock sequences.

The US Capitol in Washington, DC. Though very far from Fairbanks, the GI and the seismology group maintain a strong presence.

Policy and legislation

OK, I don't have a cool photo or graphic to go with this project. And I have never worked closely with a student on policy or legislation. However---and somewhat to my surprise---my career has evolved to include quite a lot of policy at the federal and state level. I have influenced several pieces of federal legislation and written text that appears directly in a few others. It can be frustrating work. But it can also be incredibly rewarding. This is not a research topic on its own. But for a student or postdoc with the right interests, there is a whole world of political advocacy that I would love to introduce. There are fascinating professional opportunities for scientists with political acumen. And because most Alaska legislators have direct experience with natural hazards, this is a great place to dip your toes into politics.