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22-38. Investigation of the Puerto Rico Subduction Zone: Structure, processes, and seismic hazard

A crustal-scale, onshore-offshore seismic reflection/refraction and high-resolution seismic reflection experiment will occur in fall 2023 using the R/V Langseth. The Puerto Rico Seismic Network (PRSN) is also updating their earthquake locations. The Fellow will help process and model these data and integrate PRSN relocated earthquakes to improve understanding of seismic hazard in this region.

Description of the Research Opportunity

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are one of the most tectonically active areas of the United States. Caught between the Caribbean and North American plates, the islands and surrounding regions are being subjected to oblique subduction that causes uplift and a complex distribution of faults and accompanying seismicity. Oblique subduction is observed elsewhere on Earth including along the Sumatra and Aleutian subduction zones, which are major sources of earthquakes and tsunamis. The northern Caribbean plate boundary has likewise generated devastating historical earthquakes and tsunamis in the Caribbean and has the potential to cause tsunami flooding along the U.S. East Coast. Most recently, the ongoing earthquake sequence in southwestern Puerto Rico, culminating in a M6.4 earthquake, landslides, and shoreline subsidence, highlights the complex system of faults exhibiting a variety of motions in this region.  

A wealth of new geophysical data will soon be available to study the Puerto Rico subduction zone with unprecedented resolution. These data will allow the Fellow to pursue topics such as: (1) Imaging or modeling of the subduction interface, the upper plate, and the backarc thrust complex, using results from seismic reflection and refraction methods; (2) Integration of seismicity with crustal imaging results to better define and characterize the active tectonics and fault systems; (3) Quantitative comparisons of fault systems and seismicity in Puerto Rico with analogs elsewhere; (4) Imaging or modeling of crustal and sedimentary deformation in response to fault motion; (5) Understanding the evolution of oblique plate boundaries through kinematic and fault modeling; (6) Assessing the seismic hazard and secondary effects associated with the active fault systems; and (7) Understanding processes and fluid flow within oblique subduction zones and their relation to seismic hazards. 

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas. 


Proposed Duty Station(s)

Woods Hole, Massachusetts

(Extended stays in Puerto Rico are possible for research collaboration) 


Areas of PhD

Geophysics, seismology, geology, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity, may be considered). 



Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications: Research Geophysicist, Research Geologist  

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)