Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Geology and Geophysics
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Susan Humphris and Jim Broda work in the rock and core storage area of the Seafloor Samples Laboratory. This collection holds more than 14,000 marine geological samples recovered from the seafloor. Construction will begin in 2005 to add 10,000 square feet to the facility by 2006. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphic Services)
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The Geology and Geophysics Department focuses on understanding how our Earth works by investigating the dynamics of convection in the mantle, the geologic structure and tectonics of the ocean basins, interactions of continental and oceanic geologic processes, the history of ocean circulation patterns and climate change, and the interactions between geological and biological systems.

In 2004, the G&G Department comprised 97 staff and 28 postdoctoral and Joint Program students who were involved in 268 research projects. Bob Detrick stepped down as Chair in 2004 and was succeeded by Susan Humphris. During Bobs term, G&G began building a coastal processes group by hiring three assistant scientists, while simultaneously strengthening and diversifying the geophysics, geochemistry, and paleoceanography groups. In 2004, two new assistant scientists were appointed. Sarah Das is a glaciologist with an interest in the factors that cause surface melting on ice sheets, and in understanding the dynamics of ice sheets. Mark Behn, a 2002 graduate of the Joint Program, is a geophysicist who integrates field observations with numerical modeling to understand a broad range of magmatic and tectonic processes.

G&G staff and students traveled far and wide in 2004 collecting data and samples. Some conducted fieldwork on land, collecting volcanic gases from Nicaragua and Sicily; studying the volcanology of Tau Island, Samoa; conducting geophysical surveys across South Africa; and investigating the geology and tectonics of the western Sichuan basin, east of the Tibetan plateau. Others worked near shore at the interface between land and sea, along the east coast of the U.S. and in the Danube and Indus river deltas. Still others led or participated in research cruises to the East Pacific Rise, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the western north Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, the Panama Basin, and the Lau back-arc spreading center west of Tonga.

This year, the capabilities of the WHOI Seafloor Sampling Laboratory (right) were greatly enhanced when Liviu Giosan, Jeff Donnelly, and Rindy Ostermann received funding for the acquisition of a core scanner. The first of its kind in the U.S., this instrument allows rapid, nondestructive, ultra-high resolution measurements of the chemical composition and density structure of sediment cores and other geologic materials. One of the major uses of this instrument will be in detecting chemical changes in sediment cores at an annual to millennial resolution that can be linked to environmental and climatic changes.

Science highlights of 2004 included significant advances in earthquake research made by two groups. Jeff McGuire and graduate student Margaret Boettcher, together with a colleague from the University of Southern California, applied a mathematical model to a database of earthquakes on the East Pacific Rise and demonstrated that the largest earthquakes are preceded by abundant foreshocks, thus indicating a significant amount of predictability. This work, published in Nature, represents an important breakthrough in earthquake predictability studies. In addition, Jian Lin, Debbie Smith, and graduate student Trish Gregg investigated a several year record of earthquakes along the Siqueiros Transform Fault in the eastern Pacific and showed that an earthquake in one area can transfer stress and trigger an earthquake nearby. Both studies emphasized the need for a better understanding of these oceanic faults, and suggest that at least some earthquakes might be predictable.

—Susan Humphris (shumphris@whoi.edu)
Department Chair

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