Maggi Glasscoe is a geophysicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who studies seismology. A geophysicist is a scientist who uses physical principles to study the properties of the Earth. Geophysics broadly encompasses the quantitative study of the Earth and its environment, and includes fields such as meteorology, oceanography, and seismology.
I use physical principles to study the dynamics (geodynamics) and mechanics of the Earth in order to better understand the physics of earthquakes, how faults interact, and how the surface of the Earth deforms (moves) before, during, after and in between earthquakes. I also work to provide disaster responders information quickly in the event of an earthquake so that they can make better decisions about where to send their resources.
The USGS Earthquakes Map
View a map of the most recent earthquakes that have occurred in America and Worldwide.
ShakeOut (Earthquake Preparedness Drill)
Everyone, everywhere, should know how to protect themselves in an earthquake. Even if earthquakes are rare where you live, they may happen where you or your family travel.
Earthquake Topics and Terms
Educational resources for learning more about earthquakes.
Maggi, do you have a hobby?
I enjoy playing board games, role playing games, and computer games. I've played Dungeon and Dragons (and other table top Role Playing Games) since high school. I have also recently started sewing and have taken several classes, and hope to try my hand at making costumes for the Renaissance Faire.
Where would be some good places to go to study earthquakes?
- The "Ring of Fire" along the Pacific margin, where a lot of seismic and volcanic activity occurs because you have many plate boundaries. A "subduction zone" is where one tectonic plate moves beneath another and sinks into the mantle as the plates move toward each other. And so for example, you have the San Andreas fault in California; subduction zones off the coast of Oregon, Washington and Alaska; the subduction zone off the coast of Japan; several subduction zones around the western Pacific in Asia (around various island nations like Sumatra, Taiwan, the Philippines); and subduction zones off the coast of South and Central America. These subduction zones are not only associated with faults, but also with volcanoes!
- There is a large fault zone in the Central US called the New Madrid Fault Zone that produced a series of four large earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, and could produce another very large earthquake.
- In places like California, you can see faults quite plainly. For example, the San Andreas and Garlock faults are visible from the air when you fly north of Los Angeles and the San Andreas fault can even be seen in road cuts along Highway 14 in the Antelope Valley in southern California.
- In the San Franscisco Bay Area, Interstate 580 runs along the trace of the Hayward fault.
- In places like the Devil's Punchbowl in Southern California, you can see how the rocks have been twisted like taffy as a result of fault motion (between the San Andreas and San Gabriel faults)
- Another famous siteis Vasquez Rocks, also in Southern California, where many westerns and science fiction shows, like Star Trek, have been filmed.
What are some career opportunities for someone who studies earthquakes?
- Geologists Structural geologists study faults and how the Earth and rocks deform. They do laboratory experiments on rocks and go into the field to study and map different features. More broadly, geologists are Earth historians and seek to understand details of the Earth's story. Earthquakes and faults are a key part of this.
- Seismologists Seismologists study the genesis and propagation of seismic (earthquake) waves in geologic materials, both in the Earth or through laboratory experiments.
- Geophysicists This is a broad category of scientist that uses physical principles to study the Earth. You can use geodesy (GPS, radar, other satellite techniques) to study the small scale motion of the Earth's surface, computer simulations to understand the dynamics of the Earth's core or mantle, study the magnetism of rocks to understand the Earth's magnetic field and its reversals. So geophysics encompasses a very broad area of science. My favorite, of course, is the study of earthquakes. Many quantitative techniques are employed to study earthquakes (including seismology, geodesy, field work, computer simulations, and data mining).
- Emergency management You can pursue a career in emergency management, where you help decision makers (like government officials, the utilities, etc) prioritize their resources in the event of an earthquake.
- Geophysicists can also work with NASA, USGS, FEMA, and state agencies, working on research in earthquakes, or disaster response and damage reduction.
- Geophysicists can also be Teachers at all levels, from elementary school to college, or be independently employed for oil companies, mining, engineering geology, and other geotechnical endeavors.
What are some tools of the trade for Geophysicists?
- Geophysicists use seismology to understand how the earthquake waves behave. This gives you information on how large the earthquake is, where it is located, and can also shed light on many other details about the Earth, since the waves travel through the Earth and can help us understand the properties of the different layers and rocks.
- Geophysicists use computer modeling to do various simulations and models to represent the Earth and better our understanding of the physics and dynamics of the system and compare to observations.
- Geophysicists use data mining (computer science) or statistics and other data understanding methods to study the behavior of data sets and help to reveal possible phenomena.
- Geophysicists use field work using equipment such as seismometers, GPS, radar to record and understand how the Earth moves during and in between earthquakes.
- Geophysicists use the observational techniques of geodesy, including radar and GPS, to look at the small scale motion of the Earth's surface after and in between earthquakes to understand the physical processes associated with the event and better understand the physics of how they work.
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