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Intern Spotlight: Alaina Foster (URISE)

Tags: internships

This summer we’re introducing interns from URISE, RESESS, Student Career, and Geo-Launchpad programs to highlight their research projects and how EarthScope programs further their career goals.

Alaina Foster is a URISE intern entering their senior year at Wellesley College in Massachusetts studying geoscience and computer science. Alaina is from Toledo, Ohio, and they first heard about EarthScope when a friend sent them the URISE program information. 

Last year, Alaina completed an independent study exploring the changes in grain size distribution and elemental composition of lake sediments to draw conclusions regarding the earthquake record in Massachusetts and the impacts of European colonization. Alaina analyzed grain size distribution of the sediment and the element composition before and after European colonization. By looking at grain size distribution, it is possible to see changes in lake level that may be associated with earthquakes or other natural hazards. For example, in their grain size analysis Alaina found that there was a turbidite resulting from mass wasting from the 1755 Cape Ann earthquake. Additionally, elemental composition and density analysis gave Alaina insight into how the land was being used, such as an increase in aluminum associated with colonial land use and further corroborated by higher density and smaller grain size. Analyzing these two aspects of the sediment composition in congruence with an age model and quantitative history allowed Alaina to draw conclusions about the region. 

This summer, Alaina is at the University of California Berkeley looking at seasonal seismic velocity changes in the Long Valley Caldera. They are combining two data sets using Python: one from Taka’aki Taira at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and one from Alicia Hotovec-Ellis at the USGS California Volcano Observatory. In this study, they aim to better understand the underlying mechanisms of the seismically active volcano by combining coda wave interferometry data and ambient noise seismic interferometry. They will also be evaluating the correlation of seasonal characteristics with other geophysical and hydrological data. Alaina will be posting project updates to their blog here.


  • What piqued your interest in the URISE program?

I was looking to do something different than what I have done before. I really like sedimentology, but I also wanted to figure out how I could combine seismology with the interests I already had and find a niche that I would really enjoy.

  • What’s been your favorite part of the internship so far?

I’ve never been in the area before so I have really enjoyed exploring the area and being in a place that is so geologically different from the Midwest and East Coast. I would never do caldera science on the East Coast.

  • What are your career goals/ post-grad plans?

I plan to go to grad school and am currently doing research on where I might want to go and what I might want to research. I would like to take a year off, and I’m thinking about applying for a year long internship or fellowship.

In their free time, Alaina enjoys playing ultimate frisbee, and they’re a member of the ultimate frisbee team at Wellesley. Alaina also enjoys playing sports as they used to be a competitive swimmer, as well as enjoying hiking and reading. Upon the conclusion of their internship, Alaina plans to join their mom in Kentucky to go see a national forest, hike, and camp. Additionally, Alaina has tentative plans to travel to Seattle or Vancouver, Canada.