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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Husband-&-wife team to predict earthquakes

Researchers from more than 20 institutions around the country will work on the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) project, which could help predict earthquakes in the future.
Judi and Fred Chester, both Texas A&M geology professors, met in high school and are now a husband-and-wife team preparing to work on the project.
“The big initiative like this is usually driven by a group of scientists that come together and identify an important science question,” Fred Chester said.
There are three phases of SAFOD, which began in the early 1990s. It will take one year to drill down into the earth’s crust, all the while taking core samples and setting up instruments. Two years will be spent drilling horizontally across the active fault zone of San Andreas and studying approximately a kilometer of core samples that will be collected in 250-meter increments and put together after the kilometer has been fully acquired, Fred Chester said.
“It is the timely thing to do, based on what has been done elsewhere to date. That’s why it would be classified as an observatory rather than just a bore hole,” Judi Chester said.
In the past, scientists have drilled into the earth’s crust, collecting samples and leaving the site. This project will be monitored, and data will be produced continuously.
SAFOD is a part of the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope, a program that will study North American tectonics along with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Congressional funding of $220 million has been granted to EarthScope. Researchers are now writing proposals to compete for funds to carry out the research for SAFOD.
“We’re almost certain we’ll be getting funding, because we have submitted proposals before to the NSF and have received good reviews,” Fred Chester said.
Because of the different aspects of SAFOD, there will be a great number of researchers studying the same material, but addressing different questions.
“We have a proposal submitted right now to the NSF with collaborators from Utah State and St. Louis University to do detailed analyses on the core that has been recovered already and the core that will be recovered in 2005,” Judi Chester said. “And that core will be stored here and we’ll get to observe the core whether we get funding or not, but our goal is to do very detailed analyses.”
The hole will stay open, and instruments will be kept down there to observe and produce data.
“What’s really going to be unique about this experiment is that we are going to drill right into a place where we know there’s going to be a small earthquake, so we’re going to see it before, during and after, probably a couple of times,” Fred Chester said.
Opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students will be available once core samples have been brought to A&M. Judi Chester said students will be able to travel to the site and possibly help collect, identify and study rock samples. Parts will be preserved at A&M and possibly be worked on by geology classes.
“During the drilling process, there is a lot of collection and cleaning of drill chips, pieces of rocks that come up,” Fred Chester said. “It is important for the drillers to know what they are going through.”
Takamasa Kanaya, a geology graduate student, is currently studying ancient fossil rocks to better understand earthquake cycles and how faulting occurs.
“International collaboration is important, I thinkto better understand and predict earthquakes, ” Kanaya said,

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