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College of the Sciences

CWU Receives $600K NSF Grant to Advance Geosciences

Thanks to more than $600,000 from the National Science Foundation, Central Washington University will participate in the world’s largest earthquake monitoring system.

Tim Melbourne, CWU geological sciences professor, received a total of $620,500 for "Geodosy Advancing Geosciences & Earthscope (GAGE)," a five-year research project funded by UNAVCO/National Science Foundation. Melbourne is the director of the PANGA [Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array], a lab that monitors the Earth’s movements throughout Washington, Oregon, Alaska, British Columbia, and northern California.

Melbourne’s lab will become one of two Data Analysis Centers for the emerging Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO), a network of 1,100 permanent, continuously operating Global Positioning System (GPS) stations, and other data-collecting and reporting instruments designed to study movement on and below the Earth’s surface. GPS is the preferred method for sensing Earth movements from days to decades.

Building on a proven track record of providing GPS data and results, Melbourne’s lab will merge the existing infrastructure within the CWU Geodesy group to further the science goals of PBO.

“It’s a natural fit,” said Melbourne. “Our lab is fully equipped to handle the growing PBO array, and we are already processing and posting data daily from the first 25 PBO stations—in addition to more than 500 other stations from PANGA], the International GNSS [Global Navigation Satellite System] Service, and other continuous arrays.”

Since 1996, the CWU Geodesy Laboratory has documented a multitude of interesting and important phenomena. These include the discovery of transient slip events along the Cascadia subduction fault, the impact of Basin and Range extension on Pacific Northwest mountain formation, and pre-earthquake movement prior to the Peruvian earthquake. Most recently, the lab also identified similar events beneath northern California, where they show a smaller recurrence interval than previously thought. All of these results stem directly from consistent delivery of near real-time GPS data to the larger PANGA and global geophysics communities.

According to Melbourne, by combining and integrating these resources, a more fully detailed map of the Earth’s movement can be drawn, and will provide invaluable information about impending seismic disasters.

Photo caption: CWU Geological Sciences Professor Tim Melbourne with a GPS receiver.
For more information about CWU’s PANGA Lab, view this episode of CWU's Geology Rocks. 

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