Project Information
EAGER: Lowering the detection threshold of Antarctic seismicity to reveal undiscovered intraplate deformation
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Part 1: Nontechnical

Unlike other locations on the globe Antarctica is not known for having large earthquakes and the remote nature and harsh conditions make it difficult to install and maintain seismometers for earthquake detection. Some researchers believe the lack of large earthquakes is due to the continent being surrounded by inactive tectonic margins. However, in the last two decades, scientists have discovered that more earthquakes occur in the interior of the continent than previously observed. This suggests that there are many earthquakes missing from historic earthquake catalogs. This study aims to find the missing earthquakes using novel earthquake detection and location techniques from seismic data collected from temporary and permanent seismic stations in Antarctica over the last 25 years. Locating these earthquakes will help understand if and where earthquakes are located in Antarctica and will help in planning future seismic deployments. As part of the project broader impacts, a field expedition with the Girls on Rock program will be conducted to teach high school age girls, and especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, data visualization techniques using scientific data.

Part 2: Technical

The spatial distribution of seismicity and the number of moderate magnitude earthquakes in Antarctica is not well-defined. The current catalog of earthquakes may be biased by uneven and sparse seismograph distribution on the continent. We will mine existing broadband seismic data from both permanent and temporary deployments to lower the earthquake detection threshold across Interior Antarctica, with a focus on tectonic earthquakes. The hypothesis is that Interior Antarctica has abundant moderate magnitude earthquakes, previously undetected. These earthquakes are likely collocated with major tectonic features such as the Transantarctic Mountains, the suspected Vostok collision zone, the West Antarctic Rift System, the crustal compositional boundary between East and West Antarctica, and the Cretaceous East Antarctic Rift. Previous seismic deployments have recorded earthquakes in the Antarctic interior, suggesting there are many earthquakes missing from the current catalog. We propose to use novel earthquake location techniques designed for automated detection and location using 25 years of continuous data archived at IRIS from PASSCAL experiments and permanent stations. The approach will use STA/LTA detectors on the first arrival P-wave to 90 degrees distance, Reverse Time Imaging to locate events, and beamforming at dense arrays strategically located on cratons for enhanced detection and location. The combination of detection and location techniques used in this work has not been used on teleseismic body waves, although similar methods have worked well for surface wave studies. If successful the project would provide an excellent training dataset for future scrutiny of newly discovered Antarctic seismicity with machine learning approaches and/or new targeted data collection. We plan to collaborate with Girls on Rock, a local and international organization committed to building a culturally diverse community in science, art, and wilderness exploration, in a summer field expedition and integrating computer coding into post-field scientific projects.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Person Role
Schmandt, Brandon Investigator and contact
Pena Castro, Andres Researcher
Antarctic Earth Sciences Award # 2023355
Polar Special Initiatives Award # 2023355
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
2 (derived data)

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