Conversations in Science Series
A program conceived and organized by the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with the collaboration of the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Edgewood Sonderegger Science Center.

Thursday, May 8, 2008 at 4:00 p.m.
LOCATION: Sonderegger Science Center (Click here for parking information)
1000 Edgewood College Drive Madison, Wisconsin

Professor Clifford Thurber
Professor of Geophysics

"Faults and Earthquakes: Up Close and Personal"

The Conversations in Science series brings together UW-Madison science researchers and Dane County science teachers. Designed to stimulate discussion between scientists and science educators at all levels, these conversations connect high-, middle-, and elementary school classrooms with the University's cutting-edge research. Questions and ideas are freely exchanged between expert and an audience of K-12 educators.


Seismology as a science in the United States took a giant leap forward in 1908 when an exhaustive study of the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake (the Lawson report) was released. Geodetic (surveying) observations provided the basis for the landmark "theory of elastic rebound," introduced by Professor H.F. Reid of Johns Hopkins University, who was a member of Lawson's Commission. This theory describes how the earth's crust slowly deforms (strains) with accumulating geologic forces until it suddenly "lets go" during rapid movement along a fault, releasing years of accumulated strain and generating the seismic waves that cause ground shaking. This process is known as the earthquake cycle. In the century since, seismologists have learned a great deal about earthquakes, but our knowledge of the physical and chemical properties of fault zone materials at the depths where earthquakes occur remains quite limited.

The San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) has as its central goal to directly measure the physical and chemical processes that control deformation and earthquake generation within an active fault zone. Achieving this requires drilling through the fault zone at a significant depth, bringing samples of fault zone materials to the surface for detailed study, and making in-situ observations of fault zone processes and properties during the earthquake cycle. I will discuss some of the highlights (and lowlights) of my participation in the SAFOD project, and provide some insight into what we are learning about fault zones and earthquake from SAFOD.


Prof. Thurber is an international leader in research on three-dimensional seismic imaging. His primary research interests are in the application of seismic tomography to fault zones, volcanoes, and subduction zones, with a major emphasis on the San Andreas fault in California. Other areas of Thurber's expertise include earthquake location, geophysical inverse theory, and seismic monitoring of nuclear explosions. He received a bachelor's degree in physics from Cornell University in 1975 and a Ph.D. in geophysics from MIT in 1981. He joined the faculty at UW-Madison in 1989 after 8 years on the faculty at Stony Brook University in New York.


Chapters 1 and 2 of Hough, Susan, "Earthshaking Science: What We Know (and Don't Know) about Earthquakes," Princeton University Press, 2004.

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