A Virginia Tech professor has an integral role in the establishment of a new center to study earthquakes in the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of Oregon.

The project will create an earthquake center to study subduction zones — fault lines where one tectonic plate slips beneath another — to enable collaborative research and community connections for increased hazard awareness.

The Division of Earth Sciences in the Directorate for Geosciences at the National Science Foundation has awarded a $15 million grant over five years to establish the Cascadia Region Earthquake Science Center (CRESCENT). As the principal investigator for Virginia Tech, Tina Dura will receive $650,000 in the first five years to support Virginia Tech master’s and Ph.D. students, develop open-access databases, and direct a summer field school for underrepresented students. 

Virginia Tech brings expertise to the table

Dura is assistant professor of geosciences in the College of Science and an affiliate of the Center for Coastal Studies and the Global Change Center, both part of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

Leading the Cascadia Paleoseismology Working Group for the project, Dura and her team are using geologic methods to reconstruct the seismic history of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a 1,300-kilometer region that spans from Cape Mendocino, California, along the Oregon and Washington coast to Vancouver Island, Canada. They will take core samples and conduct laboratory analyses on marsh sediments to determine past earthquake-generated coastal subsidence — sinking — and tsunami inundation — flooding — to understand the impact of a future earthquake.

This map is color coded to show the areas where damage from earthquake shaking may occur.
This map is based on the 2018 National Seismic Hazard Model and shows the likelihood of earthquake shaking that produces at least minor damages across the Cascadia subduction zone in the next 100 years. Photo courtesy of Tina Dura.

A center of seismic importance

The establishment of this center is of international importance. Most earthquake research is based on a different geologic system, a continental strike-slip fault such as the San Andreas system, yet earthquakes in subduction zones, located off the coasts of Alaska, Chile, Indonesia, Japan, and the Pacific Northwest, host the largest earthquakes on the planet. Centralized research in the Cascadian Subduction Zone will be transferable to all the others. Dura brings a wealth of paleoseismology experience to the project, and she will be applying both field and laboratory techniques she has honed at subduction zones around the world.

Center goals

The central goal of the project is to foster collaborative earth science research for the societal good. More specifically, the center aims to achieve the following:

  • Grow scientific knowledge of the onshore-offshore nature of Cascadia’s geographic and tectonic setting that is transferable to other subduction zones around the world.
  • Establish a centralized location to help prepare the Pacific Northwest for the imminent slew of cascading hazards that will follow the next earthquake.
  • Build a diverse future geoscience workforce by providing education efforts aimed at secondary, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels.
  • Form collaborations with relevant stakeholders in the region, which includes scientists, community members, governmental agencies, and regional tribal nation organizations.

Partnering together

The following universities and institutions are affiliated with the project to create CRESCENT:

  • University of Oregon
  • University of Washington
  • California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt
  • Western Washington University
  • Washington State University
  • Oregon State University
  • Central Washington University
  • Purdue University
  • Portland State University
  • University of North Carolina, Wilmington
  • University of California, San Diego
  • Smith College
  • Stanford University
  • National Science Foundation’s Geodetic Facility for the Advancement of Geoscience
  • Cedar Lake Research Group
    U.S. Geological Survey

Digging in

“I could not be more excited for the opportunity to lead the Virginia Tech effort in the Cascadia Region Earthquake Science Center,” Dura said. “With this new funding, we will have the opportunity to conduct new geologic studies to advance our understanding of past and future earthquake and tsunami impacts at Cascadia and contribute to efforts to improve community resilience. We will also have support to work toward diversifying the subduction zone research workforce through field-based and workshop-based programs aimed at undergraduate and graduate students underrepresented in geosciences.”

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