It matters for many reasons! By seeing underneath the ground we learn more about how the North American continent was put together, and how it has changed through time. One practical example of this is learning more about geologic hazards, like earthquakes and volcanoes.
Not all dangerous faults reach the earth’s surface, and EarthScope helps us to peer into the earth and better understand these faults and the threats that they might pose to cities and people. EarthScope also helps us understand why there are volcanoes in certain places, and lets scientists explore and understand the "plumbing" of volcanoes, including Yellowstone.
Learn more on our What are we studying? page.
In addition, we can study lots of smaller geologic mysteries – there could be an EarthScope project in your backyard! Check out our "Field Programs".
EarthScope Facilities have three main components: the Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO), San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD), and USArray. PBO comprises a network of about 1200 stations covering the 48 contiguous states and Alaska, including continuously operating GPS, borehole and laser strainmeters, seismometers, and tiltmeters. SAFOD provides physical samples and seismic, geodetic and electromagnetic data from the San Andreas Fault near Parkfield, California. USArray comprises a nationwide long-term seismic Reference Network supported by multiple agencies; the 400-station Transportable Array that is slowly marching from west to east and will reach the East Coast in 2012; and a backbone network of seven magnetotelluric observatories. PBO and USArray also include portable equipment pools for use in temporary experiments proposed by individual scientists; maintain integrated data management systems; and support education and outreach activities including teacher training and curriculum development, sponsorship of summer intern and research experiences for undergraduates, and technical workshops and software development.
This is a difficult question to answer because the Facility is so distributed, but perhaps the single best answer is the area of the US States and Territories covered by the EarthScope Facility network. The EarthScope Facility will have, by the end of the program, covered 2000 locations with portable seismometers and installed 1200 GPS in all 48 contiguous States, Alaska, and Puerto Rico; this is a total of 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million square kilometers).
The Facility includes nearly 4000 instruments of various types.
The Facility has collected over 67 terabytes of data to date and adds another terabyte on average every six weeks.
More than 1200 different groups downloaded data from the Facility in just the last quarter of 2010.
During the construction of the Plate Boundary Observatory, EarthScope crews drilled boreholes totaling over 19 km in depth.
The SAFOD borehole is over 3.2 km long and ends about 2.7 km below the surface (the borehole is vertical for the first 1.5 km, then is tilted for the remaining length).
EarthScope Facility crews have driven well over 1.5 million miles in the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Facility.
The EarthScope Facilities support a total of about 110 full-time equivalent positions across the U.S., with primary offices in Alaska, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and Washington State. The 110 positions also include a number of field engineers at work across the country. In addition, more than 125 students have been involved in construction and operation of the EarthScope Facility.
The EarthScope Facility total construction budget from 2003-2008 was $197 million. The current operations and maintenance budget is $25 million/year, and the anticipated total budget for the first five years of operations (2008-2013) is $126 million.
EarthScope is really a group of people working together in different ways to achieve scientific goals. The EarthScope Program has a Program Manager who is appointed by NSF to oversee operations. The EarthScope National Office coordinates meetings and other scientific and public events, publish a newsletter and take care of its website. Scientists and students working both as individuals and as members of multidisciplinary collaborative teams do the science.
The EarthScope National Office (ESNO) helps to communicate EarthScope progress, data, and research opportunities among NSF, the facilities, the research community, and the public. In particular, the ESNO organizes and conducts meetings, workshops and Lecture Series, creates and distributes a quarterly newsletter, maintains the EarthScope website and social media pages, represents the organization at meetings and conferences, and develops and distributes educational material.
Please note that, in addition to those listed below, there are dozens of individual private landowners who have given permits to install EarthScope Facility stations on their land. There are also numerous State and local government agencies, private companies, and US educational institutions that have been involved with constructing, operating, and maintaining the EarthScope Facility or with oversight activities. The EarthScope Facility is operated, maintained, and managed for NSF by two non-profit corporations that each represent a large scientific consortium: the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and UNAVCO. IRIS is responsible for USArray and has 114 full members; UNAVCO is responsible for PBO and SAFOD and has 94 full institutional members and 70 associate members. In addition, multiple national and international groups are or have been involved in various ways with the EarthScope Facility, including:
- US Federal Agencies: National Science Foundation; Bureau of Land Management; Department of Energy; NASA; NOAA; US Geological Survey; US Fish and Wildlife Service; US Forest Service.
- International Collaborations: Australia (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation [CSIRO], GTSM Technologies); Canada (Geological Survey of Canada, Pacific Geoscience Center, Queens University, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Manitoba, University of Quebec at Montreal); Chile (University of Chile); China (China Earthquake Administration, China Institute of Geophysics, China Seismic Array); Japan (Geological Survey of Japan); Mexico (Centro de Investigacion Cientifica y de Educacion Superior de Ensenada [CICESE], Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico [UNAM]; New Zealand (Victoria University).
- Other: European Plate Observing System; Federation of Digital Seismographic Networks; International Continental Drilling Program; International GNSS Service; International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics.
There are many opportunities for students to get involved with EarthScope science and research through our partner organizations. UNAVCO offers the RESESS internship (Research Experiences in Solid Earth Science), which is a summer internship dedicated to increasing the diversity of students in the geosciences. IRIS provides the REU internship (Research Experience for Undergraduates) aimed at geoscience, math and physics majors. SCEC offers a summer internship: SURE. SURE interns are primarily undergraduate juniors or seniors who are majoring in earth science or a related field. They are paired with a SCEC scientist at that researcher's institution or field site, to work within that scientist's field of specialty.
UNAVCO is an NSF-funded consortium which facilitates geoscience research and education using geodesy. Although UNAVCO has many other projects and goals, it is one of the partners on the EarthScope project to run the Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO). UNAVCO manages the PBO facilities and data for EarthScope.
IRIS is an NSF-funded consortium that is dedicated to the operation of scientific facilities for the acquisition, management, and distribution of freely available seismic data. Although IRIS has many other projects and goals, it is one of the partners on the EarthScope project to run the USArray. IRIS manages the USArray facilities and data for EarthScope.