VCU Rice Center

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News and events
Aug. 5, 2013

Earth-shaking research

Why are the Appalachian Mountains rising when they should be breaking down? What patterns are occurring that could give better insight to geological events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, leading to better detection?

As part of a massive seismological study, the VCU Rice Center has been selected as the eastern terminus of a study on tectonic movements in the eastern United States — the Mid-Atlantic Geophysical Integrative Collaboration, or MAGIC.

MAGIC researchers
MAGIC researchers prepare site for installation of seismograph at VCU Rice Center

MAGIC is a three-year collaborative research project led by The College of New Jersey and Yale University, and funded by the National Science Foundation, Earth Scope, IRIS and GeoPRISMS. This project is focused on studying the structure of the Earth's crust and upper mantle in the area of the Appalachian Mountains. Students and faculty are currently installing a series of 28 seismograph stations stretching from the VCU Rice Center in eastern Virginia to the western border of Ohio. These stations will record earthquake data allowing the imaging and modeling of the hidden geological structures deep below the Earth's surface, as well as help to explain the origins of the Appalachian Mountains and Mid-Atlantic geography.
As part of the larger, more comprehensive study on North America's geological evolution, EarthScope, the seismograph at the Rice Center will be installed and collect data for four years before being removed cleaned, recalibrated and redistributed to other scientific institutions as part of the EarthScope Flexible Array program.

What is EarthScope?
Designed to track North America's geological evolution, EarthScope is the largest science project on the planet. This earth-sciences observatory records data over 3.8 million square miles of the earth's surface. Since 2003, its more than 4,000 instruments have amassed 67 terabytes of data — equivalent to more than a quarter of the data in the Library of Congress — and they add another terabyte every six to eight weeks.

Courtesy of

How does it work?
Researchers are using EarthScope, which consists of many kinds of experiments, to examine all facets of North America's geological composition. Across the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico, 1,100 permanent GPS units track deformations in the land's surface caused by tectonic shifts below. For example, seismic sensors next to the active San Andreas Fault in California record its tiniest slips, while rock samples pulled from a drill site that extends two miles into the fault reveal the grinding and strain on the rocks that occur when the two sides of the fault slide past each other during an earthquake.

Over the course of 10 years, small crews have hauled a moveable array of 400 seismographs across the country using backhoes and sweat. By the time the stations reach the East Coast next year, they will have collected data from almost 2,000 locations. The end result will be a far more complete picture of the past evolution of earth's land masses, and possibly what the future may hold for our planet.