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22-39. Exploring the final frontier of seafloor deformation

We seek to advance understanding of active tectonic deformation on the seafloor by integrating existing and emerging technologies and analysis tools, such as those applicable to rapid and hazardous phenomena such as earthquakes, tsunamis, aseismic fault slip, and submarine ground failures. Combining multiple datasets to ameliorate inherently spatially limited observations offshore are encouraged. 

Description of the Research Opportunity

Subduction zones host some of the largest geologic hazards on Earth, capable of generating huge earthquakes, tsunamis, and submarine landslides with enormous social and economic impacts. These hazardous phenomena also occur in other tectonic environments, so insights regarding these processes have broad implications. While not directly hazardous, slower deformation processes (evolving over hours to months or longer) impact the potential for short-duration (seconds to hours) ones and must be understood to accurately assess hazards and issue meaningful forecasts. In subduction zones, accommodation of relative plate motions via fault slip occurs largely offshore. However, most geophysical observations are from onshore. The distance between the slip events and the measurements has resulted in large uncertainties in resolving shallow subduction zone deformation processes. There is a practical need for innovative seafloor observations of spatially dense measurements with sufficiently high temporal sample rates and long durations. In addition to offshore geologic processes, the overlying ocean and marine life also create a plethora of signals that may be difficult to distinguish in most geophysical and geomorphic data; e.g., nearly identical seismic signals may be produced by T-phases (distant earthquake-generated waves that travel largely in the water column), submarine slope failures, or tectonic tremors (Gomberg et al., 2021). These complex processes may be distinguished by combining multiple data types, with exciting new possibilities arising from the use of submarine distributed acoustic sensing (DAS). This may utilize existing unused seafloor cables (‘dark fiber’; see Romanowicz et al., 2023) or new ones, along with seismic, hydrophone, pressure, and temperature sensor networks (herein called OBS, or ocean bottom sensor deployments).  This RO focuses on, but is not exclusive to, the use of existing datasets and infrastructure, particularly ‘dark fiber’ DAS to investigate its potential when used with complementary data and models for probing questions about seismic and aseismic deformation in offshore shallow subduction zone settings.   

An example of a significant scientific advance this RO may tackle would be confirmation of the existence or lack of aseismic slip transients up-dip of the presumed seismogenic region of the megathrust where earthquakes occur. In the Cascadia subduction zone, the transients down-dip of the seismogenic region are well documented owing to their proximity to the accessible terrestrial measurement sites. Observations of shallow offshore transients have been elusive, but may manifest geodetically using seafloor DAS strains or now commonly measured absolute pressure gage recordings. They may also manifest seismically as tremor and other ‘low frequency’ earthquakes, repeating earthquakes, and swarms, using DAS or OBS data. Tackling this and other explorations will require characterization of the ranges of event sizes, frequency contents, and durations of signals that seafloor DAS can reliably record and developing approaches to discriminate the multitude of tectonic and non-tectonic signals seen in DAS and other seafloor data.   

Research focused on the Alaska and Cascadia subduction zones is encouraged. Potential existing and available datasets include those from the Alaska Amphibious Community Seismic Experiment and Cascadia Initiative OBS deployments, the Cascadia Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) and NEPTUNE cabled observatories offshore the U.S. and Canada respectively. Offshore DAS datasets include that from the SeaFOAM experiment (Romanowicz et al., 2023), and recent experiments the RO mentors have participated in along the OOI cables off Pacific City, Oregon and in the Cook Inlet of Alaska. 

We seek an individual with background and interest in geodesy, seismology, and data science to pursue research on shallow deformation in subduction zones.  Given the frontier nature of seafloor observing, studies focused on areas outside Alaska and Cascadia will be considered if appropriate to advancing the research goals.  In addition to the frontier nature and the novelty of fusing multiple seafloor data types, advances in analysis techniques should be utilized to expand our understanding of seafloor deformation processes. Development of machine-learning methods is encouraged, including unsupervised learning approaches when large, validated, linked observation-to-process datasets do not exist, as well as supervised learning when they do.   

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



Gomberg, J., Ariyoshi, K., Hautala, S., & Johnson, H. P. (2021). The finicky nature of earthquake shaking-triggered submarine sediment slope failures and sediment gravity flows. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 126, e2021JB022588. 

Romanowicz, B., R. Allen, K. Brekke, L. Chen, Y. Gou, I. Henson, J. Marty, D. Neuhauser, B. Pardini, T. Taira, S. Thompson, J. Zhang, S. Zuzlewski; SeaFOAM: A Year‐Long DAS Deployment in Monterey Bay, California. Seismological Research Letters 2023; doi: 


Proposed Duty Station(s)

Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Vancouver, Washington

Seattle, Washington

Moffett Field, California 


Areas of PhD

Geodesy, seismology, geophysics, marine geophysics, Earth science, mathematics, computer science, 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.)