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Earthscope

The continents move. That fact by itself is pretty incredible. Slabs of rock thousands of miles across are sliding on a softer layer deep below the surface. In the nearly 100 years since this Continental Drift was described by German meteorologist Alfred Wegener, geologists have discovered a host of information about how they’re moving, and about the dynamics within the Earth that are driving the motion. This picture of how geologic processes function is fascinating, but in science there are always more questions. When taking pictures, resolution matters. In modern terms, the more pixels you have, the better the picture looks; and if you’re doing science, the more you can learn. In a very rough sense, that is the premise of the Earthscope project. Earthscope is an ambitious project funded by the National Science Foundation. Earthscope is deploying over 400 seismometers, 175 strain meters, and 900 GPS units to around 1600 locations around the United States. There’s even a hole being dug through the San Andreas Fault in California, a part of the project called SAFOD (which sounds like an oblique Douglas Adams reference; if so, none of their liturature cops to it). The instruments are expensive, so there’s no where near the funding to deploy enough seismometer units to cover the US at the level of detail they want (you may have noticed a little discrepancy in the numbers above). The solution is to make a smaller number of portable seismometers, and slowly leap-frog them across the country over the next decade. It’s not like the plate will be dramatically changing direction in the next 10 years. (more…)

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