Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Seismic equipment installed as part of national initiative to understand North American Continent

KINGSVILLE - June 16, 2006

Contact: Jason Marton
jason.marton@tamuk.edu or 361-593-4143

L-R:  Students Tommie Hernandez, Annette Gamez and USGS
representative Dr. Bob Hutt.

During the week of June 12, Texas A&M University-Kingsville became part of the EarthScope national science initiative, when a seismograph and a deep-mounted GPS unit were installed deep into university property.

The EarthScope project seeks to explore the structure and evolution of the North American continent and to understand the physical processes controlling earthquakes and volcanoes. The way this will be tackled, in part, is through a permanent seismic network spread throughout the continental United States and Alaska, featuring 100 seismic stations that will provide real-time data flow. The network is officially known as the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS), and is a partnership between EarthScope and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Seismic data are transmitted in real time by satellite to the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, CO, where they are used for immediate location and magnitude measurements. Data are also available in real time for tsunami warning for the largest earthquakes.

Texas A&M-Kingsville’s participation in the initiative started in September 2005, when physics and geosciences lecturer Dr. John S. Buckley was contacted by the USGS, which was looking for assistance in securing a site and installing the seismic equipment.

Buckley became a project officer, working with Drs. Bob Hutt and John Derr of the USGS in examining three different South Texas locations in Kingsville and beyond. For each possible location, seismic instruments were installed into the ground by Buckley, Hutt and A&M-Kingsville students interested in geology and not afraid to dig.

USGS representative Dr. Bob Hutt and student Joe Martinez

“It would have been tough carrying out this project without the help of the students,” said Buckley. “The USGS has encouraged the student participation in this project as well.” Buckley notes help in particular from A&M-Kingsville geology students Alex Fuentes, Rick Garcia and Joe Martinez, Del Mar geology major Annette Gamez and A&M-Kingsville social work major Tommie Hernandez.

“John is obviously a strong believer in involving interested students, whether or not they are in his own department,” said Hutt of the USGS.  “The students who participated in the noise surveys were all quite helpful and interested. None of the student volunteers had any qualms about getting their hands dirty, and hopefully they will continue having an interest in the project.”

After a few days, the instruments were recovered and the data they gathered were examined to find the location that provided seismic data with as little outside interference as possible. One location that didn’t make the cut was south of Riviera, near the bay—so near, in fact, that waves hampered getting clean readings. The location that was chosen met all the scientific and contractual obligations, and ended up being the one nearest the A&M-Kingsville campus.

The seismograph and GPS unit going into the ground at A&M-Kingsville will track a number of things, including any and all plate tectonics, along with any elevation changes regionally, up to the millimeter.

“The South Texas site is the southernmost ANSS site in the continental US,” said Hutt.  “One of the main purposes of the EarthScope project is to use data from the ANSS stations to produce a detailed map of the North American continent from the surface down to the mantle, and it's important that we have uniform geographic coverage of the U.S. to make sure that the subsurface map is as comprehensive, accurate, and detailed as it can possibly be. This map will be used to help us determine how the continent was formed, which will help us to better understand earthquake generating processes, among other things.”

To record accurate data, the location will not be released to the public, but not to worry—those interested in EarthScope will be able to see its equipment and learn all about it another way. The USGS will provide Texas A&M-Kingsville with a museum-quality display, along with a seismograph for hands-on use by visitors. The display will be permanently housed with the geosciences department in the very near future.

Looking back over the last few months, Buckley notes how much he has taken away from the experience so far. “I consider myself primarily a paleontologist, so it’s been an education for me to be involved in the project,” said Buckley.

Hutt had high praise for the A&M-Kingsville project officer. “My experience in working with Dr. John Buckley has been nothing short of outstanding.  John has expressed keen interest in the project from the beginning, and his interest and extremely valuable help along the way have never waned.  I have never known a non-seismologist to be this committed to a seismological project.”

For Buckley, the EarthScope project provided more than enough reason for his dedication. “It’s a project of national importance, providing a service to ourselves, the USGS and the country.”

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