World-Recognized Geophysicist Exposes Deep-Earth Secrets, Aug. 11, 2008

By Thomas Guengerich Dr. Aster

SOCORRO — Education meets entertainment when world-renowned researcher in geophysics and seismology Dr. Rick Aster hosts a multi-media presentation about the inner workings of our planet.

Aster, a professor of geophysics at New Mexico Tech in Socorro, is the star attraction at a KNME Science Café at 10 a.m. Saturday, August 16, at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

In addition to being a professor and the Chair of the Earth and Environmental Science Department at New Mexico Tech, Aster also is the principal investigator of the EarthScope Array Operations Facility at the Socorro university. EarthScope is a national project that is deploying a high-tech imaging system designed to uncover significant information about the composition of our planet through deep seismic imaging.

“This talk will be representative of exciting new research into the nature of the deep Earth,” Aster said. “We are right now in a spectacular period of discovery regarding the interior of our planet, thanks to the availability of dramatic new data, such as that provided by EarthScope and imaging techniques.”

This Science Café is a great opportunity for inquiring minds to learn about cutting-edge geological research. Aster will discuss a variety of geologic questions: How was our state formed geologically? Where are the fault lines and earthquakes in New Mexico? What is the Rio Grande rift? How do processes happening hundreds of miles beneath the Earth’s surface produce the beautiful and characteristic landscapes our state?

“EarthScope research uses techniques that are somewhat similar to those exploited by a doctor’s medical sonogram,” Aster said. “But we are doing this sort of imaging on a vastly larger scale to see inside the body of the Earth. Just as a sonogram allows a doctor to see through inches of the human body, EarthScope instruments and techniques allow us to see hundred or thousands of miles into the solid rock of the Earth.”

Funded by the National Science Foundation, EarthScope is a decade-long, geoscience research program that is deploying more than 2,000 seismographs across the United States. The project aims to understand the North American continent and, more broadly, the evolution of the planet. So far, these instruments have been deployed from the Pacific coast to New Mexico. Over the duration of the project, the seismographs will be moved systematically eastward to the East Coast, and then to Alaska.

Seismometers track miniscule movements at the Earth’s surface created by earthquakes and other sources, and seismologists use these data to develop an image of our planet. The continental array of seismic sensors could also be compared to a very large array of telescopes that are pointed inward instead of skyward. Aster will display images of the Earth, including cross-sections of the deep interior of the planet beneath New Mexico. These images can be used to infer different temperature zones and materials.

“The very deep structures and processes of the Earth affect our landscapes in New Mexico — from the Four Corners to the plains of West Texas,” he said. “I will talk about how these geologic processes affect our geography and how we understand these processes using seismology.”

New Mexico Tech is a national leader in seismology and Earth science research. In addition to EarthScope, Tech is home to the nation’s largest “lending library” of globally used seismology instruments, the IRIS PASSCAL Instrument Center. Tech researchers study the geology and seismology of the Earth on every continent, including annual excursions to Antarctica.

Admission to the Science Café is free, but a reservation is required. To reserve your seat, contact Chris Sanchez at (505) 841-2872 or chris.sanchez@state.nm.us.