The observatory, under the direction of Caltech geology professor Jean-Philippe Avouac, will study plate tectonics and the deformation of the earth's crust before, during, and after earthquakes. "Most of the outstanding questions in earth science concern processes that take place at the boundaries of the earth's tectonic plates," said Avouac, so the observatory's scientific efforts will be centered around major field studies at a few key plate boundaries in western North America, Sumatra, Central America, and Taiwan. The bulk of the grant will be spent on new technologies, and on acquiring data that will be used to observe and model the boundary zones. The technologies used will include seismometers, space-based global positioning systems, satellite images, and geochemical fingerprinting methods.
"We hope to breed a new generation of earth scientist," said Avouac. "The Tectonics Observatory will offer students an exceptional environment with access to all of the modern techniques and analytical tools in our field, along with the possibility of interacting with a group of faculty with an incredibly diversified expertise."