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Long-running Seismic Network Awarded $16.7 Million Extension

National Science Foundation award will fuel Project IDA network expansion

Map of IRIS network, including Project IDA sites


  • Robert Monroe

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  • Robert Monroe

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A seismographic network based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego will continue to provide vital real-time data about earthquakes and other seismic events over the next five years thanks to a $16.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Project IDA (International Deployment of Accelerometers) is a 43-year-old network of stations spread across every continent on Earth that provides rapid detection and reporting of seismic waves. In the mid-1980s it joined with IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology), a consortium of U.S. universities, and the U.S. Geological Survey to collectively establish a network of 150 stations around the world. Project IDA, the U.S. Geological Survey and IRIS now operate these stations as the Global Seismographic Network (GSN).

The award to Project IDA is part of an overall $93 million award to IRIS. The funding will maintain a network upon which entities like the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) rely to provide instant estimates of earthquake location and magnitude anywhere in the world as well as their potential to kill people, damage property and generate destructive tsunamis.

“Over the past 34 years, IRIS has established an outstanding reputation for management of large, multi-user facilities for research and education in seismology,” said IRIS President Robert Detrick. “We are very excited to be able to continue to provide state-of-the-art seismological facilities to the IRIS community for another five years.”

Project IDA principal investigator Jon Berger, a seismologist at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps, said the network was supported by private funding by the Green Foundation in its early years but has since gone on to become an indispensable global resource with federal help.

“It provides seismic data to all international researchers who are working on earthquakes and other phenomena associated with seismic activity,” Berger said.

The network continues to improve, reaching remote areas of the planet to increase the resolution of seismic events, including nuclear tests with the potential to violate the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. For instance, Project IDA sensors were among several to verify that a Sept. 2017 event in North Korea was an explosion rather than an earthquake using parameters such as its distance from the earth’s surface and the profile of seismic waves it produced.

Scripps seismologist Peter Davis, Executive Director and co-principal investigator of the project, is overseeing construction of a new station in Uzbekistan and a station that was recently added on the Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands. Davis said that among the benefits of the GSN is a capability for emergency response agencies to issue early warnings that seismic events have occurred to assess their potential to generate tsunamis.  In certain cases, GSN data provide the only means responders might have to assess earthquake damage in remote areas where conventional communications networks have been damaged by the event.

“It allowed responders in Nepal to get to the worst areas even before communications were reestablished,” said Davis in reference to a 2015 earthquake in which nearly 9,000 people were killed.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement Nos. EAR-1724509 & EAR-1851048. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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