USArray Zamora, newswriter

SOCORRO, N.M., March 25, 2003 -- New Mexico Tech is commencing with a major upgrade of its seismology capabilities, and the research university is also poised to play a major role in a continental-scale geophysics research project that will use arrays of ultra-sensitive seismometers to obtain detailed images of the Earth's inner workings.

Last month, President Bush signed into law a 2003 Omnibus Spending Bill that includes $3 million to support new instrumentation acquisition and $30 million for the first year of operation of EarthScope. Both projects have received bipartisan Congressional support, notably from New Mexico's U. S. Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman.

The $3 million instrumentation appropriation, which was spearheaded by Senator Domenici, represents the third year of a planned $9.5 million upgrade of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) seismological instrumentation pool that is maintained and operated by the New Mexico Tech IRIS/PASSCAL Instrument Center, now in its fifth year of operation on the Socorro campus.

The hundreds of new instruments provided by the recent funding will be fully Internet-capable and will be used in scientific research throughout the United States and the world on earthquakes, volcanoes, and Earth structure, as well as to advance capabilities necessary to detect clandestine weapons tests. The data collected are used by hundreds of research groups, including national laboratories operated by the U. S. Department of Energy and other universities.

EarthScope is a cutting-edge science and research initiative of unprecedented scale designed to address fundamental questions about the Earth's interior.

Pending final approval of a proposal submitted to the NSF, New Mexico Tech is also positioned to take on a key role in USArray, one of the four major components of EarthScope.


Utilizing recent developments in sensor, recording, and telecommunications technology, including those funded by Senator Domenici's instrumentation appropriation, USArray will spend the next decade instrumenting the contiguous 48 United States and Alaska with a moving 600-mile by 600-mile array of small, automatic earthquake recording stations that will migrate from west to east.

Data from these instruments will be used to perform a high- resolution "CAT scan" to reveal the internal structure of the North American continent, its underlying mantle, and the Earth's core.

"Taking an analogy from our distinguished astronomy colleagues, USArray can be considered to be a 'Very Large Array,' pointed down instead of up, for imaging the deep interior of our planet and unraveling its history and ongoing geologic processes using seismic waves," says Rick Aster, professor of geophysics at New Mexico Tech and principal investigator at the IRIS/PASSCAL Instrument Center.

"Since New Mexico Tech is hosting the primary operations of the USArray and is expanding its IRIS/PASSCAL Instrument Center, the immediate impacts to the university and surrounding area will include an additional $2 million in annual payroll, the creation of 14 new professional-level jobs, and new on-campus research opportunities and resources for both scientists and students, as well as significantly heightened national and international recognition for the university and the State of New Mexico," says New Mexico Tech President Daniel H. López.

"By combining support from Senator Domenici with the resources of the university, we have been able to create a significant economic development in central New Mexico," López notes.

"It is particularly noteworthy that even though all 100 of the U. S. research universities that make up the IRIS consortium have been involved with planning for EarthScope, only two of the consortium members will actually have lead roles in EarthScope's operations," the Tech president adds, "and they are Stanford University and New Mexico Tech."

In addition to the New Mexico Tech-based USArray, EarthScope's other components are the San Andreas Fault Observatory, a deep observation hole drilled into the San Andreas fault; the Plate Boundary Observatory, a network of permanent and portable GPS receivers and strain meters deployed along the western coast of North America; and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, which employs a satellite capable of providing spatially continuous strain measurements over wide geographic areas.

"I anticipate that the geophysics program at New Mexico Tech will become deeply involved in the scientific analysis of data from USArray and other components of EarthScope, and in national education and outreach efforts that will stem from this momentous Earth-science project," Aster says.

Additional information on EarthScope can be found online at www.earthscope.org.