VPUE Undergraduate research opportunity/Electromagnetic monitoring of earthquake precursors

Stanford University Department of Geophysics


The Crustal Geophysics Research Group in the Department of Geophysics at Stanford University is seeking one or more undergraduates to conduct research and participate in our monitoring of the San Andreas and Hayward faults, under the direction of Prof. Simon Klemperer (Department of Geophysics) and recent Stanford alumna Dr. Darcy McPhee (U.S. Geological Survey).   Our monitoring is intended to discover whether or not there are electrical and magnetic signals created within the earth, particularly by fluid motion along earthquake faults, before or after major earthquakes. The student(s) will be involved in any or all phases of the project, from installing the field equipment around the Bay Area, through computer-based data validation and analysis to data interpretation, and eventual scientific publication. The project started Fall 2004, funded by the National Science Foundation, and our first site became operational at Stanford's Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in Spring 2005.  In summer 2005 we installed two additional sites, and continued analyzing our existing data.



Please apply to work with us at Stanford and around the Bay Area, up to 10 hours per week in term, full-time for part of the summer, for training and research in earthquake geophysics and electromagnetic measurements. Both hourly stipends and research credit are available to Stanford students, and all expenses will be paid during fieldwork, through Stanford's School of Earth Sciences Summer Research Program


*What is our scientific objective?

Ultra-low frequency electromagnetic monitoring of earthquakes within the Earthscope Plate Boundary Observatory

On an annualized basis, earthquakes in California kill several people and cause several billions of dollars of property damage every year. There is a natural societal interest in understanding whether earthquakes are predictable; and if they are predictable, developing ways to obtain even a few minutes of warning. We are attempting to address this societal need by studying electromagnetic emissions as one of the most promising potential pre-seismic transients. Our network of monitoring stations is being established in association with the UC Berkeley electromagnetic network.   We wish to provide an independent source of data for the public to complement commercial earthquake prediction services in California.


Part of the mission of the National Science Foundation's Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) is to learn whether earthquakes are predictable. We are building a network of three ultra-low frequency electromagnetic (ULF-EM) recording sites in northern California in order to understand earthquake physics and to detect pre-seismic transients if they exist. Our electromagnetic sensors include ultra-sensitive magnets to detect tiny changes in Earth?s magnetic field, and low-noise electric cables to detect tiny electric currents inside the Earth.  Our ULF-EM sensors will be collocated with existing PBO sites, so that any anomalies observed on our electromagnetic sensors can be cross-checked against more-conventional earthquake detection instruments: strain meters and seismographs.  All our data will be transmitted to a public data archive on a continuous basis, 24 hours a day.  We will monitor our instruments on a daily basis to confirm that they are recording valid data, and we will run the data through a set of standardized programs to search for possible anomalies.  It is possible that we will recognize a major change in signal levels or character before an earthquake, but it is more likely that after a major earthquake we will have a valuable dataset that we can use to test hypotheses about the way earthquakes initiate, and to help us understand future earthquake cycles.


Scientists expect that a major earthquake is likely to strike San Francisco Bay Area between 2007 and 2032: we want to detect signals from it, ideally before it occurs!


We are recording ULF-EM data because ultra-low frequency (0.01-10 Hz) magnetic field anomalies prior to and following large earthquakes (magnitude greater than 6.5) have been reported from a number of different regions of the world. If real, these signals contain important information about the physics of earthquakes, particularly fluid motion in and around the fault before during and after seismic activity. We are collocating our magnetic sensors with PBO strain-meters and seismometers in order to allow signals from earthquakes to be separated from artifacts related to sensor tilt.  We are recording with identical, spatially separated recorders in order to exclude other potential sources of magnetic signals (including man-made signals). Continuous recording of the magnetic and electric field before, during and after, and spatially close to, a significant earthquake, is required to demonstrate the reality or absence of ULF-EM signals. We are locating our ULF-EM recording sites along the San Andreas and other major faults in San Francisco Bay Area, because these faults have a large potential for a major earthquake in the next decade.


*More technical details:

Download our poster presentation from the December 2005 American Geophysical Union meeting, Ultra-low Frequency Electromagnetic Monitoring of Earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Area: Initial Results of an Earthscope PBO Project.(warning: 40 Mb file)

Download our technical paper describing the construction and operation of a typical station, A Transportable System for Monitoring Ultra Low Frequency Electromagnetic Signals Associated with Earthquakes.


*What will you do?

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded our project to monitor earthquake faults in the San Francisco Bay Area. You will help us use existing software and develop new software to monitor the state-of-health of our instruments and to analyze the data on a routine basis.  Matlab skills are most important, then ability to use or develop unix shell scripts (csh).  You will help us present annual summaries of our data at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, and co-author technical reports and papers on our data acquisition and analysis.   Your summer project will focus on data analysis and coding.


*Process and criteria for selection of the student(s):

The opportunity is advertised to all enrolled Stanford undergraduates. Priority will be given to those students who are Juniors in academic 2006/07 who will be enrolled at Stanford through 12/07 or beyond (but any undergraduate continuing at Stanford at least through 9/07 is eligible) with majors (or academic preparation) in Geophysics, Electrical Engineering, Physics, Applied Physics, Computer Sciences, or any other engineering or science major.  Applications are particularly solicited from women or minorities.


*Method of application:

Interested students should email me (sklemp@stanford.edu) a package consisting of: a statement of interest and preparation, Stanford transcript, and a resume, and the e-mail address of one potential reference, typically a Stanford faculty member who has interacted with you beyond the standard classroom setting, or from a research mentor outside Stanford.


I am available to answer any questions.  You may also wish to contact other Stanford undergraduates who have carried out substantive research projects with me: Sheila Bijoor (Electrical Engineering), Roland Gunther (Physics), Michele Cash (Physics), and Andrea Les (Mech.Eng.).


Early application is encouraged: I hope the successful undergraduate will start on the project during Spring Quarter 2006.  Short-listed candidates will be briefly interviewed.


Visit Simon Klemperer's Home Page


Last updated 02/07