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Departments & Programs


Mary Lou Zoback

Title:Consulting Professor
Primary Affiliation:Department of Geophysics
Office Location:

Biographical Information

For many years I was a Senior Research Scientist at the USGS, Menlo Park, CA.  I also served as Chief Scientist, Western Earthquake Hazards program.  I then worked at Risk Management Solutions (RMS) in Newark, CA where I served as Vice-President, Earthquake Risk Applications.  At RMS I utilized the company’s commercial risk models to explore the societal role of earthquake insurance, and to quantify the costs and benefits of disaster management and risk reduction activities.


My current research interests focus on the relationship between active faulting and state of stress, quantifying earthquake likelihood, characterizing natural hazard risk, and valuing nature’s defenses against natural hazards.


Winter 2012 I will be co-teaching, with George Hilley in GES,  a new course entitled "Understanding Natural Hazards, Quantifying Risk, and Increasing Resilience in Highly Urbanized Regions".  

GES/EESS/GEOPHYS 118/218  3 units, Tues/Thurs 4:15, Friday 2:15.

This multidisciplinary upper-level undergraduate and graduate level course will focus on integrating the science of natural hazards, methods for quantitatively estimating risks posed by these hazards to populations and property, and engineering, policy, and economic solutions to best ameliorate risk and increase resilience to future events.  Course consists of two weekly lectures and panel discussions, many by outside experts.  Additionally, students will meet once a week in team that investigate these issue in a set of study megacities.

Professional Activities

Member, Disaster Roundtable, National Academy of Science

Member, "Increasing the Nation's Resilience to Natural and Man-Made Disasters" panel, National Research Council

Trustee, Carnegie Institution of Science



  • 1970-1972 Florida Institute of Technology, transferred
  • 1972-1974 Stanford University, B.S. Geophysics
  • 1974-1978 Stanford University, Ph.D. Geophysics

Professional Experience

  • 2006-2011 Vice-President, Earthquake Risk Applications, Risk Management Solutions (RMS) Newark, CA. 
  • 2003-2006 Senior Research Scientist and Program Coordinator, Northern California Earthquake Hazards Program, USGS Menlo Park. 
  • 1999-2002 Chief Scientist, Earthquake Hazards Team, U. S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA. 
  • 1990-1991   Visiting Scholar, Geophysikalisches Institut, Universität Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany
  • 1979-1999   Research Geophysicist and Senior Research Scientists, U. S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA.
  • 1978-1979   National Research Council Post-Doctoral Research Associate, U. S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA
  • 1974-1978   Research Assistant, Stanford University 

Honors & Awards

  • 2007     Day Medal, Geological Society of America
  • 2007     Public Service Award, Geological Society of America
  • 2006     “Leadership, Innovation, and Outstanding Accomplishments in Earthquake Risk Reduction” Award from the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
  • 2005-2006 Distinguished Public Lecturer for the Seismological Society of America who provided funding for public lectures at major museums and  universities around the country
  • 2003     Bownocker Medal, Ohio State University, in recognition of scholarly and professional achievements in the geological sciences.
  • 2002     Department of Interior Meritorious Service Award
  • 1995     Elected Member, National Academy of Science  
  • 1990-1991 G. K. Gilbert Fellowship, awarded by USGS for sabbatical at another institution (Universität Karlsruhe)
  • 1987      James B. Macelwane Award of the American Geophysical Union-for "significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by a young scientist of outstanding ability".
  • 1978-1979      U. S. National Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellowship, U. S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA.       

Professional Activities

    American Geophysical Union, Member and Fellow
  • 1996-1998 President, Tectonophysics Section
  • 1994-1998 Council member (governing board)Geological Society of America, Member and Fellow
  • 1986-1988 Councilor
  • 1987-1988 Chair, Geophysics Division
  • 1989-1990 President, Cordilleran Section
  • 1999-2000 President Seismological Society of America, Member
  • 2009-2011 Member, Board of DirectorsNational Academy of Sciences
  •  2003-2005 Councilor (governing board,)
  •  2003-2008 Member, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public PolicySelected Scientific Advisory Committees & Editorships
  • 2009-2014       Member, Board of Trustees, Carnegie Institution for Science.
  • 2008-2010       Chair, Advisory Council, Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC), funded by NSF and USGS.
  • 2008-2010       Chair, Government Affairs Program Advisory Committee, American Geological Institute, a federation of 45 Earth Science professional societies.  Helped guide AGI’s congressional advocacy program.
  •  2007-2010       Chair, Public Advisory Committee for San Francisco’s CAPSS (Citizen’s Action Plan for Seismic Safety), reporting to the SF’s Chief Building Inspector and working with the Mayor’s office.  We successfully recommended and helped craft an ordinance for mandatory retrofit of seismically vulnerable buildings in San Francisco
  •  2004-2006 Member, Executive Committee, Earth Science and Applications from Space: Decadel Survey, National Research Council, charged with defining the next generation of Earth observations from space. Report at:
  •  2003-2008       Member, National Academies’ Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP). COSEPUP is made up of members of NAS, NAE, and IOM members and initiates studies on cross-cutting issues in science and technology policy.
  • 2003-2005       Member, Panel on “Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research”, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, National Research Council.
  • 2002-2005       Member, Advisory Board, Energy and Environment Directorate, Lawrence Livermore Lab.
  • 2000-2002          Member, NASA Steering Committee for Solid Earth Sciences, developed a 25-year plan for the Solid Earth Sciences Program at NASA for the NASA Associate Director.
  • 1999-2001          Member, National Medal of Science selection committee, appointed by President Clinton
  • 1997-2000       Member, Board on Radioactive Waste Management, National Research Council
  • 1997-1998              Member, Committee for Development of an Addendum to the National Science Education Standards on Scientific Inquiry,National Research Council
  • 1997-1998          Member, Science Strategy Team of the Geologic Division of the USGS, developed a 10-year plan of priority scientific directions for the Geologic Division of the USGS
  • 1992       Guest editor, Special issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research on the World Stress Map Project
  • 1990-1992       Member, "Coupled Hydrologic and Tectonic Processes at the High Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Site, Yucca Mountain, Nevada" panel, Board on Radioactive Waste Management, National Research Council
  • 1988-1993       Member, Continental Dynamics Program Review Panel, National Science Foundation.
  • 1986-1993       Chair, Task Group II-1 World Stress Map Project, International Lithosphere ProgramPublic Hearings & Testimony          
  • 2002          “Earthquake Hazards and Schools”, Public hearing convened by CA State Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett
  • 2003      “Public Warnings of Natural Disasters”, Senate Natural Hazards Caucus briefing
  • 2005       “Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety”, County Supervisors hearing, San Francisco
  • 2006          “Tsunami Warning”, Senate Natural Hazards Caucus briefing
  • 2010          “Seismic Safety of Schools”, State Senate hearing convened by CA State Senator Ellen Corbett


  • Zoback, M. L., and Zoback, M. D., 1980, State of stress in the conterminous United States: Jour. Geophys. Res., v. 85, no. B11, p. 6113‑6156.
  • Zoback, M. L., Anderson, R. E., and Thompson, G. A., 1981, Cenozoic evolution of the state of stress and style of Tectonism of the Basin and Range Province of the western United States: Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. London A, v. 300, p. 407‑434.
  • Zoback, M. D., and Zoback, M. L., 1981, State of stress and intraplate earthquakes in the central and eastern United States:  Science, v. 213, p. 96‑104.
  • Zoback, M. D., Zoback, M. L., Mount, V. S., Suppe, J., Eaton, J. P., Healy, J. H., Oppenheimer, D., Reasenberg, P., Jones, L., Raleigh, C. B., Wong, I. G., Scotti, O., Wentworth, C., 1987, New evidence on the state of stress on the San Andreas fault system:  Science, v. 238, p. 1105‑1111.
  • Zoback, M. L., 1989 State of stress and modern deformation of the northern Basin and Range province: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 94, p. 7105-7128. 
  • Zoback, M. L., and Zoback, M. D., 1989, Regional tectonic stress field of the continental U.S.:  Geophysical Framework of the Continental U.S., L. Pakiser and W. D. Mooney, eds., Geological Society of America Memoir, 172, p. 523-539.
  • Zoback, M. L., Zoback, M. D., Adams, J. A., (23 authors total), 1989, Global patterns of tectonic stress:  Nature, v. 341, p. 291-298.
  • Zoback, M. L., 1992, First and second order patterns of stress in the lithosphere:  the World Stress Map project:  Journal Geophysical Research, v. 97, p. 11703-11728.
  • Zoback, M. L., 1992, Stress field constraints on intraplate seismicity in Eastern North America:  Journal Geophysical Research, v. 97, p. 11761-11782.
  • Zoback, M. L., and Richardson, R. M., 1996, Stress perturbations and intraplate seismicity associated with ancient continental rifts:  Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 101, p. 5459-5475.
  • Parsons, T. and Zoback, M. L., 1997, Three-dimensional upper crustal velocity structure beneath San Francisco Peninsula, California:  Journal of Geophys. Research, v. 102, p. 5473-5490.
  • Zoback, M. L., Jachens, R. C., and Olson, J. A., 1999, Abrupt along-strike change in tectonic style:  San Andreas fault zone, San Francisco Peninsula: Journal of Geophysical Research:  v. 104, p.10719-10,742.  
  • Geist, E. R., and Zoback, M. L., 2000, Analysis of the tsunamis generated by the Mw7.8 1906 San Francisco earthquake:  Geology, v. 27, p. 15-18.
  • Jachens, R. C., and Zoback, M. L., 2000, The San Andreas Fault in the San Francisco Bay Region, California:  structure and kinematics of a young plate boundary: International Geology Review, Also published in Tectonic Studies of Asia and the Pacific Rim, International Book Series, v. 3, p.217-231, Ernst, W. G., and Coleman, R. G., eds., Geological Society of American and Bellwether Publishing, Columbia Maryland.
  • Zoback, M.L., 2001, Grand challenges in earth and environmental sciences:  science, stewardship, and service for the 21st century:  GSA Today, v., p.41-46.
  • Zoback, M.L. and Mooney, W.D., 2003, Lithospheric buoyancy and continental intraplate stresses, Intern. Geologic Review, v. 45, 95-118.
  • Kastrup, Ulrike, M. L. Zoback, N. Deichmann, K. F. Evans, D. Giardini, and A. J. Michael, 2004, Stress field variations in the Swiss Alps and the northern alpine foreland derived from inversion of fault plane solutions:  J. of Geophysical Research, v. 109, B01402. doi:1029/2003/JB002550.
  • Zoback, M. L., 2006, The 1906 earthquake and a century of progress in understanding earthquakes and their hazards:  GSA Today, v. 16, p.4-11,
  • Zoback, M. L., 2009, Natural hazards: reducing society’s risks: Earth Magazine, p. 48-53.
  • Zoback, M. L., 2009, National seismic hazard and risk—the problem:  Proceedings, ATC/SEI Conference “Improving the Seismic Performance of Existing Buildings”; American Society of Civil Engineers,
  • Zoback, M. L. and P. Grossi, 2011, The next Hayward earthquake—who will pay?, in K. Knudsen (ed.), Proceedings of the Third Conference on Earthquake Hazards in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, California Geological Survey, Special Publication/Report 219. 

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