Structural Seismology

Nature of Project(s): Computational and numerical
Essential Background: PHYS 3070 (Physics of the Earth); EMSC 8023 (Advanced Data Sciences); EMSC 80XX (Computational Geosciences).


Background: Seismology, the study of seismic waves, has a wide range of applications of societal importance, from seismic hazards, to discovery of natural resources, to Earth evolution. Through the recording and then analysis of seismic data, which can originate from earthquakes, ocean noise, or man-made sources, seismologists image the structure of the Earth from the surface to the core. Seismic imaging is the only approach that can reveal structure and processes that are both currently active (e.g. faults, earthquakes, volcanoes) and infer those that occurred billions of years ago (e.g. orogenesis and formation of the continents).


Possible Future Research Avenues:

  1. Dynamics of subduction zones and plate boundaries: Plate boundaries, and in particular subduction zones, are the most prolific producers of seismic and volcanic activity on Earth. Many aspects of the subduction factory however remain poorly understood. For example, the degree and nature of coupling between the subducting slab and its surroundings, the strength of the slab during subduction, how it deforms, and how much water is transported to the deep mantle. Surrounded by plate boundaries Australia has a unique advantageous location for recording earthquakes originating from nearby subduction zones. We have multiple experiments that have data recorded at active subduction zones, such as in Indonesia, New Zealand, Alaska and Japan. Various seismic techniques and observational tools can be applied to analyse signals carried by these seismic waves near to or even distant from their source. We have several projects to study subduction and plate boundary dynamics from a seismological perspective.
  2. Architecture of the continental lithosphere: The continents are the location of the oldest and thickest lithosphere on Earth.  Some of the oldest continental building blocks (i.e. cratons) are found in Australia. At depth, the ancient rock record has invaluable information about the dynamics that has shaped the Earth.  Much of that history has been dominated by plate tectonics which has repeatedly assembled and broken apart the continents through the Wilson Cycle. While the younger regions of continental lithosphere have been subject to deformation driven by plate tectonics, it is less clear whether the ancient, stable cores formed and evolved from similar processes. We have several projects that focus on continental formation and evolution from a seismological perspective.  Seismology can provide remarkable views into the deep lithospheric structure using imaging techniques on broadband seismic data.  The Australian continent provides a long and complex record of the evolution of the lithosphere and much of the continent remains to be explored.