From USC Dornsife: “Renowned seismologist, John Vidale, joins USC to lead Southern California Earthquake Center”

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USC Dornsife

November 1, 2017
Michelle Boston
msboston@dornsife.usc.edu

Powered by a network of more than one thousand researchers from around the world, the center is at the forefront of earthquake system science.

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John Vidale, an expert in earthquake early warning systems, has been named director of the Southern California Earthquake Center at USC Dornsife. Photo by Mike Glier.

John Vidale first took an interest in geology as a junior in college. He began as a physics major — a subject he had adored throughout high school — but was frustrated by how ethereal his coursework was in college. So, he enrolled in a geology class. The subject excited him because it was grounded in what he could see and touch.

“I could go look at rocks,” Vidale said. “I could evaluate things that are deep under my feet. I could look at the Earth’s history through geology. That was very appealing.”

His senior year in college, Vidale took 11 geology classes, adding geology as another major alongside physics and a minor in economics. In particular, he was fascinated by the study of seismic waves — surges of energy traveling through the Earth.

“In geology, the tool with the highest resolution is seismology,” Vidale said. “Like taking an X-ray of the Earth, I can see exactly what’s going on and where.”

With three decades of experience studying Earth science, Vidale’s research focuses on anything related to seismic waves, from nuclear explosions to landslides to glaciers, and of course, earthquakes.

Beginning this October, Vidale is taking on a new role involving the study of earthquakes as the new director of the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) based at USC Dornsife. He will also serve as Dean’s Professor of Earth Sciences at USC Dornsife.

Looking for shakier ground

Vidale was drawn to SCEC for many reasons, but perhaps above all was its location. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, where he lived prior to leading SCEC, one could experience earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and tsunamis, but the appeal for him was to be in the thick of it where there is a high rate of earthquakes — Southern California.

“To learn about earthquakes we have to have earthquakes,” Vidale said. “Southern California is the heart of the science of seismology.”

Vidale, who this year was elected into the National Academy of Sciences, brings with him significant expertise. He is a member of the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council and most recently served as director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington in Seattle where he was also a professor. There, he was instrumental in developing the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System, which seeks to warn government agencies about earthquakes along the west coast of the U.S.

Previously, he taught at UCLA, where he served as director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. He was also a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

He earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in seismology from the California Institute of Technology.

Vidale is a tremendous asset for everyone who lives in earthquake-prone Southern California, and a great addition to USC Dornsife’s faculty, said Stephen Bradforth, divisional dean for natural sciences and mathematics.

“John Vidale provides deep expertise in earthquake science and leadership in earthquake early warning systems that position him to carry on the success and growth of SCEC,” he said.

A global force on earthquakes

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Southern California Earthquake Center brings together a network of more than 1,000 earthquake researchers from around the world to understand how earthquakes work and to offer models for forecasting when and where large temblors might occur.

SCEC crafted an innovative model for forecasting earthquakes called the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF), developed in concert with USGS and the California Geological Survey. UCERF represents the most authoritative estimates of the magnitude, location and likelihood of earthquakes in California.

SCEC also coordinates the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, an annual global disaster preparedness event that helps individuals and organizations around the world get ready for the next major earthquake. The center also has a significant education component that touches all levels of learners. Undergraduates can intern with SCEC while K–12 students can join the citizen-science Quake Catcher Network, in which volunteers place earthquake-monitoring sensors in their classrooms or homes to collect seismic data.

A solid foundation

SCEC was most recently led by Thomas Jordan, University Professor, William M. Keck Foundation Chair in Geological Sciences and professor of Earth sciences.

Jordan served as director of SCEC for 15 years, overseeing enormous strides in earthquake science. He established the international Collaboratory for the Study of Earthquake Predictability and, since 2006, has been the lead SCEC investigator on projects to create and improve the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast. He is a member of the California Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council and the Board of Directors of the Seismological Society of America, and was appointed by the Italian government to chair the International Commission on Earthquake Forecasting for Civil Protection.

His current research is focused on models of earthquake processes, earthquake forecasting, continental dynamics, full-3D waveform tomography, and seismology. He continues to play a major role in the path-breaking research taking place at SCEC.

“Like basketball’s Michael Jordan, Tom Jordan is an iconic leader. He has pushed earthquake system science at SCEC to international prominence through his scientific acumen, creativity and leadership,” Bradforth said. “USC Dornsife continues to benefit greatly in Tom’s mentoring of the new generation of geophysics faculty coming to Earth sciences and his continuing thought-leadership in global earthquake science.”

See the full article here .

YOU CAN HELP CATCH EARTHQUAKES AS THEY HAPPEN RIGHT NOW

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Quake-Catcher Network

The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

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The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
QCN Quake Catcher Network map

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