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Public Lecture: Extreme Science: Understanding our Earth

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Detailed Description

  • USGS science from astrogeology to earth observing satellites
  • Exploration of gas hydrates and deep coral reefs
  • USGS scientists use innovative techniques to develop a more complete understanding or how our earth works


Public Domain.


SUZETTE KIMBALL: Okay. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. If I could have your attention please, my name's Suzette Kimball. I'm the Deputy Director here at USGS and I'm really pleased to welcome all of you this evening to our ongoing series of events and public lectures that are bringing science from our scientists to those of you in the community in which we live and work. Our science and action series is really intended to give all of you a better understanding of science based issues that are important in our daily lives. [0:00:44.9]

This evening we're celebrating a couple of events. One of which is the 131st anniversary of the founding of USGS. So it is our birthday. And with that, we're really pleased that our speaker tonight is our director, Dr. Marcia McNutt. Marcia's not only the Director of the USGS but she also has a very important role as a science advisor to the secretary of interior. And that role really helps elevate the perspective and the role of science in decision making across the country. And we're very, very pleased that Marcia has that role and is able to represent the scientists of USGS and the kinds of science that you're going to hear about tonight in a very effective arena in the country. [0:01:38.1]

Before being appointed to direct the USGS, Marcia was the president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. She's a very accomplished scientist. She's participated in more than 15 major oceanographic research expeditions and has served on - as chief scientist on more than half of those voyages. In addition, she has taught at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Stanford University. [0:02:08.0]

And it's interesting, everywhere I go these days including the meeting this morning, Marcia's students come up and comment on how pleased they are to see her in this position and remember very well the lectures that she gave in - at those institutions.

Marcia earned her bachelor's degree in physics from Colorado College. And she earned her Ph. D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Since coming to the USGS, Marcia has taken a very keen interest in learning as much as possible about the range of research and science activities that we do here. She meets and talks shop with as many of our scientists as possible. And that provides the foundation for her talk this evening. She's going to share with you some of the cutting edge science being done here at USGS. And if you all saw the announcement on the boards outside, the title that she has for her talk is Extreme Science: Understanding Our Earth. [0:03:10.3]

Now you all know that the extreme science events that has occurred in the past few days is the major earthquake experienced in Chile. And Marcia, as a geophysicist, is well versed in understanding and interpreting those kinds of events. So in a rare change for us in our program, Marcia is going to invoke audience participation to help her decide on the direction of the talk this evening. So, what you hear tonight will be up to you. And with that, I'm very, very pleased to introduce Marcia McNutt. [0:03:51.7]


DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Well what Suzette forgot to mention is one of my more brilliant decisions since arriving here at the USGS was to ask Suzette to become my Deputy Director. And that has been widely viewed as one of my better decisions since coming here. And, Suzette has done a great job of helping me understand all the nuances of running this fabulous institution.

So, what she meant by audience participation is the following. Ever since the events of very early Saturday morning, it seems like I can't go anywhere or open an e-mail anymore without someone asking me the question what's up with all these earthquakes? And, so it occurred to me about Monday of this week that I might get here tonight with the intent of giving you my original lecture and have all of you sitting out here in the audience with one question on your mind. And that is what's up with all these earthquakes? [0:05:19.8]

So, by a show of hands, I'd like to know how many of you really want to hear the original lecture I was going to give and how many of you would rather hear what's up with all these earthquakes? So anyway, let's see how many would rather hear about earthquakes? Hands. Okay. And how many would rather hear the original lecture?


Oh. Okay. Well, look's like people would rather hear the original lecture. So that's what we're going to give. All right. All right. That was a clear winning favorite. Okay. All right. [0:06:09.3]

When I first got to the USGS - the title of this is Extreme Science. And, the idea here is that - let me get into this a little bit further. I think that many people around the country when they think of the USGS and the great science that's done here, they think of the wonderful ways in which the USGS supports the societal imperatives of this country. For example, the USGS is responsible for many time series and many assessments that are in the areas of water, energy, minerals, land use changes. [0:07:09.8]

For example in our water program, the USGS monitors stream flows. We monitor changes in aquifers and how much water there is in aquifers around the country. And our fossil fuels program and our energy program, we publish the amount of petroleum reserves that we have, the amount of natural gas that we have, what uranium we have, our rare earths that we have in this country and other mineral commodities that are of importance for our industries. [0:07:52.7]

In terms of land cover, for years the USGS has been responsible for the Landsat program which is a 37 year record of land use changes from space that show urbanization, that show changes in agriculture, that show desert - that land changing to desert.


DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Can't get the right word there. As the west becomes drier and changes in the amount of land that's gone under irrigation too.

The USGS is also responsible for monitoring and the science involved in climate change and of course, hazard assessment including hazard assessment associated with earthquakes but also with volcano hazard assessment and landslides, floods and tsunamis and tsunami warnings in concert with Noah and other kinds of hazards. [0:09:10.4]

Our biological research division does a lot of very important ecological baseline investigations and on one hand queries about invasive species and on the other hand, endangered species. We worry about the introduction of harmful pathogens that come in on wild foul, for example on the flyways that might be avian flu for example. And we also worry about pathogens that are harming our wildlife.

So this is not even a complete list of the databases we maintain that are important. But then the question that I asked when I first arrived here but is there cool fundamental ground breaking science as well in addition to these - the Yeoman (ph) kind of data sets that we are obligated to collect under our national charter and as part of our fundamental mission? [0:10:27.9]

Well let me put it to you this way. This is a diagram that's become very popular. It's known as - it was made popular by a book called Pasteur's Quadrant by Donald Stokes. And the way that Stokes argued it was this way. Let's suppose that we have a space in which we're plotting all of research. And people usually think of research as falling on a linear line with on one hand there being very basic research on one end of the spectrum. And on the other end of the spectrum being very applied research. And that some ivory tower university might do very basic research. And a mission oriented agency might do very applied research. [0:11:41.2]

But the point was made and made very forcefully in Stokes' book that thinking of this as a one dimensional line was not an appropriate way to think of research. That it really was a two dimensional plane with research being perhaps degrees of being basic and the practicality being on - in another dimension entirely and those being orthogonal to each other.

Research such as Louis Pasteur's research in microbiology where he discovered pasteurization that made milk safe to drink so that it wouldn't spoil was first very fundamental in his discovery of ways that bacteria formed and how to destroy bacteria. But it also had a very practical application. So it was fundamental and practical at the same time. [0:12:53.5]

On the other hand, he could put over on this quadrant Niels Bohr's research on the fundamental nature of the atom. It was very, very basic. But at the time, he wasn't undertaking it with any understanding of how it might be applied. So it wasn't very practical but it was extremely fundamental.

Thomas Edison on the other hand; his work on electricity was very practical but it built on work that had already been done with J. J. Thompson and others that had already done fundamental work on the nature of electricity. So Thompson's - or Edison's work was very practical but not very fundamental. The fundamental work had already been done by his predecessors.

Now I haven't put anyone's name in down there because no one wants their name to fall in that box.


DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: It's not fundamental and it's not practical. [0:13:56.4]


DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: So basically this is the box you don't want to be in. Okay? Now, much of university work that might be funded by state and national science foundation evolved in this box. Much work at USGS could fall in this box. But there's absolutely no reason why work done at the USGS couldn't fall in this box as well. We would hope that all our work would be over on this side of the plot. That it's all very practical with an eye for being useful to the nation. But it could be both fundamental and practical as well practical but not necessarily so fundamental. Building on fundamental work that's already been discovered by someone else. [0:14:53.3]

So what are some examples of research that might fall up here in Pasteur's squadron? So we put out and request to sign to surround the USGS to submit ideas of work that they felt might fall into this kind of research and got lots of responses back. One example of work that USGS scientists are doing that might be an example of this is really some truly groundbreaking work with the new tool called LIDAR. And LIDAR is a new type of radar in which a light pulse is deployed from usually aircraft. [0:15:51.8]

And USGS scientists are finding new ways to deploy and process LIDAR signals to observe the Earth in new ways. LIDAR is basically opening up research in the geo sciences right now in ways that GPS revolutionized geodesy several decades ago. And it's so exciting the many ways that LIDAR is being used that when one group went to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ask for some more funding so that we could do some more work with LIDAR, the response of the OMB examiner was oh, LIDAR, crack cocaine for geologists. [0:16:57.7]


DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: So yes, LIDAR the way of the future. So, this slide just shows the many ways that LIDAR can be used to investigate the details of faults. For example, one of the first responses after the Haiti earthquake was to go out with an airplane and fly the fault zone with LIDAR in order to get a high resolution image to look for the actual ground trace of the offset of the fault. But, it's also being used for a number of other studies for example, I'll just - I'm just going to show you two because there are many for geography, for carbon sequestration, etc. [0:17:53.3]

Here's one example. These are two images. Here is a photograph of a landscape. And here is the same landscape after LIDAR has been used to literally see through the trees and discover what is the true topography of this landscape if the trees weren't there to obscure what the land looks like?

Now let's suppose you wanted to do some hydrologic modeling of how water falls on this landscape and how water moves. With the trees there, you can't tell what the true shape of that landscape is. But with the trees removed, now you can. And it's because LIDAR, the pinpoints of LIDAR can actually penetrate through the trees and bounce off the ground between them. And USGS scientists could actually determine what the ground looks like beneath the tree canopy. And you can imagine how important this is especially in a place where the trees would not lose their leaves, for example in a pine forest. [0:19:16.4]

Here's another example of the use of LIDAR. One of the important things that we're doing in the USGS is an assessment of the potential for carbon sequestration in our biosphere. The idea is how much carbon can be soaked up in soils, in marshes, in trees, in other vegetation? And, we know that one contribution to the carbon balance has been reforestation of much of the land in the U.S. since the1700's when many forests were cut down to turn it into farmland. And much of that marginal farmland particularly in the east and the northern parts of the country has been returned to farmland. And as those trees have grown, they have sequestered carbon back in the trees. [0:20:27.6]

And this show how LIDAR was used. And these little pinpoints show the reflected points of the LIDAR bouncing off leaves on the trees and then going back to the aircraft. And the points show the LIDAR cloud from bouncing off the trees. And from that LIDAR cloud, the scientists were able to get an estimate of the volume of that tree. They then went out to the ground actually found the exact same tree and measured it to find out how close were they to getting the right volume? And you can see; they actually had done a pretty good job of getting the right height and the right volume of the tree. [0:21:14.7]

In this way, for example, it's really important when you say go into a forest that isn't logged and then you want to come back at a later time and find out how much carbon has been resequestered in that forest and grew back up. And you can use LIDAR to come in and find out at different times how much has that forest regrown from using a technique like this.

Okay. Let's see where I'm at. Okay. Here's the earthquake early warning system. And this is really a fun one. And it relates to the other talk I would have given - sort of the end of it. And that is; we talk a lot about in the earthquakes that happened in Haiti and Chile that once we factor out the difference in Haiti and Chile for the fact that one earthquake was - the differences in the magnitude of the earthquake and the difference in the depth. And so we just look at the similar areas - similar populations that were exposed to similar levels of destruction in terms of ground shaking. So we normalize out everything else in terms of size of earthquake, etc. [0:23:03.0]

So, the fact is that a citizen of Chile had a 400 times improved chance of surviving that earthquake than did a citizen of Haiti. And the difference was entirely due to better earthquake preparedness because they had better built buildings, better built infrastructure and a population that was more aware of what to do in an earthquake.

So if we take that understanding and say the Chileans were 400 times better prepared for their earthquake and it paid off in terms of their survivability. Then we ask the question; how prepared are we in the U.S.? And how can we be better prepared? Well one thing that the USGS scientists are working on in conjunction with some other partners at Caltech, Berkeley, SCEC which is the Southern California Earthquake Center which is headquartered at USC is the earthquake early warning system. And this is a system that we've gotten a little bit of heads up with with the stimulus money. [0:24:27.6]

But the idea with the earthquake warning system is that for many earthquakes, so of - a lot of the damage that is done is not just in the shaking of the earthquake itself but it is in things like fire that happens afterwards. And it is in the fact that systems didn't get shutdown properly right before the shaking started. So, the earthquake warning system takes advantage of that that if a message can be sent at the speed of light but earthquake waves travel at the speed of the size in a quake through rock. [0:25:24.1]

For earthquakes that happen on many of the fault systems in California, in Alaska, in the Pacific Northwest, there would be anywhere from tenths of seconds to a minute to get a signal that could shut down high speed railways, stop elevators on floors rather than between floors, close down gas mains, shut down nuclear power plants before they start some critical phase that might be a dangerous phase, stop a surgeon before he's about to make a critical cut on a patient and other things like that where an early warning could be given in the nick of time that might make a difference and stop a tragedy from becoming even worse. [0:26:20.2]

Now the important thing about the early warning is that it has to be automatic. You can't get a human to do it because there's no time for a human to respond if the warning has to come instantly and trigger on the first - near the source at the first keyway. So it has to be automatic. It has to know instantly the size of the earthquake. It has to know hey, this is a monster quake that's happened. And so it's worth triggering this response. So it's got to be automatic. It's got to be smart. And there can't be any latencies in the system. [0:27:05.3]

Right now the current earthquake network system that we have out there has built into it some buffers in the data that were put in there for perfectly good reasons in the data processing. But with the ARRA funding we got and with normal network upgrades, we've been working to get rid of any buffers in the system that would prevent us from getting the word out right away through an automated system like this that could actually mean that an early warning system like this could become a reality. [0:27:46.5]

Okay. Next topic. This one is pretty cool science, I think, mostly because of the greater good that will come out of it. This is a map of Afghanistan. And these colors on it show the result of a hyper spectral survey of the entire country of Afghanistan that was undertaken by the USGS with help from - it was sponsored by USAID with help from the U.S. military, the state department.

And Afghanistan became the first country in the entire world to have nearly the entire nation - except for the edges of it where we were getting too close to the border of other countries - to have the entire nation flown with this instrument that does - and what hyper spectral is; is it's an instrument in which measures the reflectants (ph) in many wavebands of the electromagnetic spectrum. That because of the great exposures of rocks in Afghanistan, little vegetation cover; the data can be used to determine the mineralogy of the rocks. And that mineralogy can be used to assess the mineral wealth of the country of Afghanistan. [0:29:38.6]

Now Afghanistan is literally the Saudi Arabia when it comes to mineral wealth. It may be a country that is dirt poor when it comes to things like soil for agriculture or water for irrigation. And it doesn't have a lot of oil and energy sources. But when it comes to things like copper and other minerals - lithium and other metals that are becoming very important now for high tech industry, Afghanistan is literally chalked full of these - of mineral wealth. [0:30:25.6]

And what we understand from talking to people in Afghanistan is that part of the reason why there's been so much opportunity for terrorists to get a foothold in that country is that the young people do not have jobs. They do not have a way to make a living. And with a dataset like this, there would be an opportunity to develop a very robust mining industry in this country. Because it shows exactly how wealthy this country is and where response could be felt. [0:31:14.2]

Now doing this survey was actually quite a feat because literally it was flying this hyper spectral instrument through these peaks with very little clearance. And the Hindu Kush are definitely the - are otherwise known as “the roof of the world." And getting this dataset was no mean trick. But we hope that much good will come out it. [0:31:53.1]

Okay. Next thing I wanted to talk about was the mercury cycle. And, this was sort of an interesting story. This was the science of Dave Krabbenhoft, USGS scientist, who posed the following question. We know that mercury is a contaminant in the environment. And it's bad in human health. Mercury - elemental mercury - HG - in and of itself is not bio available. You could ingest it and it wouldn't hurt you. It's only when it is converted to methyl mercury that it's dangerous. [0:32:47.1]

And so the question was that he asked is; does the distribution of methyl mercury in the environment - does it represent the sources of mercury which mostly represent the burning of coal - the coal fire power plants or does it somehow represent whatever processes convert the mercury to methyl mercury which then make it available to humans and other living organisms? [0:33:33.3]

And so, David wrote down, with other scientists, the cycle by which mercury is converted to methyl mercury. And he found that it is when mercury actually rains down in a very non-uniform way onto the landscape across the U.S. But if it's converted to methyl mercury in wetlands where in these aquatic ecosystems, bacteria converted with - in a sulfur driven system to methyl mercury where it then gets into the food chain. And, people usually then ingest it by eating fish that they catch in the streams and lakes and other things. [0:34:33.5]

So knowing this cycle, David was able to create the first map for the entire U.S. of methyl mercury contamination. And what you see in this map, the red areas are the most toxic. And what you don't see in this map are the power plants. What he found was that methyl mercury contamination in no way reflected the sources of the coal fire power plants. Rather it reflected the wetlands where the methyl mercury changes take place. [0:35:16.9]

So what you see is the wetlands of Minnesota and North Dakota. You see the wetlands of Florida. And that's where this contamination is changing. All this can - mercury can rain down on the dry Nevada desert but it doesn't do anything there. It doesn't harm anyone because it can not be converted to the methyl mercury.

So this was a very important step forward in understanding the sources of mercury contamination. And also helpful because before the map of mercury contamination was just a yes no map state by state; Minnesota was a no. New York was a no but it was only a no because this area was a no. Now with Dave's map, we can see that there are large areas of New York where it's actually perfectly safe to eat the fish from most lakes. But it's only up here in the Finger Lakes district where there's a problem. [0:36:29.4]

So, this study really helped to understand the sources of methyl mercury contamination. And hopefully will help in controlling it in the future.

Okay. Onto bio char. Who knows what bio char is? I didn't know what bio char was either so, don't feel bad. Okay. Bio char is actually sort of like charcoal. You know how you use charcoal on your barbeques in the summer to cook food. But bio char is created from bio mass so this might be a bio mass that would not be an edible food product. But it is used to - one would take this crop and convert it to a charcoal type substance. And then use it to enrich the soil after converting it to a charcoal. And it does several things. [0:37:46.3]

First of all, it sequesters carbon dioxide by creating the crop. And then when this is mixed back in the soil, it enriches the soil by increasing its fertility several fold while still sequestering the carbon. And so, this is thought to be a great way to raise agricultural productivity while still sequestering carbon dioxide. And USGS scientists actually won an award for their work on bio char in developing countries as a great way to improve their productivity and sequester carbon at the same time. [0:38:36.9]

Okay. Water on the moon. This was worked on by USGS scientist, Roger Clark. And, I think you all know that there has been - if you look at sort of the grid sound bites that one might imagine, it's sort of Earth is formed. Life develops on the planet. And the next one might be intelligent life happens on the planet. And the next sound bite could be life leaves the planet and manages to colonize another planet. [0:39:38.6]

Now we know that will not happen without water. And the reason is that the cost to [live in weight] (ph) against Earth's gravity field is so expensive that we literally can not afford to transport water to another world to sustain life. So we are not going to colonize on another world that doesn't already have water there.

So, what was important about Roger Clark's work was that he spent years reprocessing data from spectral images from NASA. And the images on the left side are from NASA's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer on the Cassini orbiter which flew by the moon in August 1999. And after 10 years of calibration refinements that Roger did, he was able to reveal from the spectroscopy that water exists at all latitudes on the moon including the sunlit equatorial areas. [0:41:08.2]

And finally after NASA telling him he was out of his mind, they finally agreed with him that yes, water exists at all latitudes on the moon. And therefore, the areas that are available for colonization on the moon have been greatly expanded thanks to Roger's work. So that was pretty cool.

Another project with NASA connections is moon dirt. Now, so what's the big deal about moon dirt? Well, it turns out that if NASA ever intends to actually go to the moon, they have to practice going to the moon. They have to practice how they're going to land on the moon. They have to practice how they're going to do operations on the moon. They have to practice how they're might try to farm on the moon, etc. But the problem is they didn't have any place where they could practice doing operations on the moon because they didn't have any place that was exactly like the moon. [0:42:30.4]

So they asked the USGS to create sim moon basically. And so the USGS scientists using lunar samples carefully recreated exactly the composition of moon dirt for NASA. And they used some plasma - these are some plasma heaters here - to exactly cook Earthen materials in the right combination to recreate exactly the mineralogy in just the right amounts to form a dirt that was - exactly simulating the dirt so that NASA would be able to do their operations on dirt that was just like what they would find on the moon. And here they were cooking it at 37,000 degrees Fahrenheit in order to simulate moon dirt. [0:43:34.7]

Okay. And then here's another extraterrestrial one, detecting Martian caves. And this might help in a potential adventure to Mars. These were using high resolution images from Mars orbiting satellites. USGS Astrogeology Science Center detected some - you see these little divots here that just looked kind of interesting from these high res images. And they're located in lava flows from a volcano named Arsia Mons on Mars. And, they - the interpretation of these is that the grooves formed when a ceiling fell in on cool of lava. [0:44:38.6]

And so for those of you who have been to Hawaii, if you've ever seen a skylight that fell in on a lava tube where a lava channel runs out into the ocean, it cools on the top but the lava underneath is still liquid. So the lava flows out into the ocean and leaves a cave behind it because it's cooled on the top but the lava's still liquid underneath. So the liquid flows into the ocean underneath and the tube is hollow underneath. And then finally through weathering or whatever, the ceiling can fall in. And so that's what these caves were; were from the ceiling falling in. In this case, of course, the lava didn't flow into the ocean but it just fell into - float out somewhere down slope.

So these caves are of interest because if you can imagine future explorers someday arriving on the moon, here they have automatically some caves that could be the first moon - or the first Mars habitats with these caves existing. [0:45:51.1]

And then arsenic. This is a discovery of some extremophiles in Mono Lake, California. Arsenic eating bacteria on Earth which may hold the answers to questions about what extraterrestrial life might look like once we find it somewhere else because these arsenic eating bacteria live in environments that lack oxygen and live in very extreme environments. These organisms which were found in Mono Lake, California formed - the lake formed about a million years ago. [0:46:46.1]

And the microbes live in Hot Springs which have extreme alkalinity, extreme saltiness. They're oxygen depleted. And they have high concentrations of arsenic in several forms. And the places were they live would be toxic to just about anything else on Earth. And so they may hold clues to what life might be like in extreme environments in other kinds of places.

So those are just a few examples of some of the kind of far out science problems. All of these, of course, connect back to programs that are, of course, of importance to NASA or important to work that we're doing in bio sequestration of carbon or to work that we're doing in hazards reduction. So in each of these cases, we can certainly say that we connect this to an applied project that is important for USGS's mission. But in other cases, we can say too that each of these projects pushed forward fundamentally basic research. [0:48:14.2]

So, it was fun learning about all the different science going on in the USGS. And it was also fun talking to the scientists about how they got started in this work and how much fun they have doing the research. So I'd happy to take questions. And, thank you all for your attention.


DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Yes. [0:48:49.1]

MALE SPEAKER: (inaudible at 0:48:50.8) After disappointingly little progress in (inaudible at 0:48:58.5) last year a number of new commercial scale projects were announced in the support of DOE. Now we know there are millions of bore (ph) holes all over the U.S. that have physical data associated with them. And the USGS has enormous expertise in structural and other geological knowledge of maps and so on. Is there a move for USGS to cooperate with DOE in building comprehensive maps that can help solve the questions relating to possible interference of sequestered CO2 with (inaudible at 0:49:46.2) and other hazards to populations? [0:49:50.6]

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Okay. Thank you for that question. And the question had to do with basically what is USGS's role in geologic carbon sequestration? And the USGS is certainly involved in the area of geological carbon sequestration. Our role is providing the assessment for the capacity for geological carbon sequestration. It is looking at issues of how much underground storage you would have, where is it, what amount of (inaudible at 0:50:32.8) is there, etc?

There is a certain handoff at some point to DOE that we will work on that interface in terms of DOE would actually have the responsibility for then doing the underground sequestration on the - and in the USGS, we are strongly pushing to be involved in that specific question of what would be the effect on groundwater? Because we believe it is the USGS's role to worry about the environmental impacts of it. So that is the stance of the USGS that we should be responsible for scientific assessments of environmental effects. But this interface has to be worked out exactly. [0:51:33.6]

MALE SPEAKER: (inaudible at 0:51:35.3) Can you give us an insight into the funding process? How does the taxpayer know that he's getting his money's worth? Building moon dirt is not something I would vote for.


DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Okay. Yes. Projects like that are funded by NASA.


MALE SPEAKER: You got to do better than that.


MALE SPEAKER: How do you make determinations on other projects?


MALE SPEAKER: How do you determine at USGS what to fund? [0:52:03.0]

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Okay. How do we determine what to fund?

MALE SPEAKER: Yes ma'am.

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Our projects are funded along four major lines. They're funded in climate, hazards, ecosystems and - climate, hazards, ecosystems and water.

MALE SPEAKER: (inaudible at 0:52:22.5) energy and minerals.

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: In energy. In minerals. Yes. Energy and minerals. We have the White House and the Secretary's priorities that drive on our decision of the top level priorities that we fund. And, you know many that you saw today would be - the NASA ones, of course, were funded by NASA but the ones that come from the Secretary and the White House sort of are the first ones. So things like carbon sequestration are important. The water census is a top priority. Reducing hazards is a top priority. Energy independence for the nation is a top priority right now. [0:53:25.2]

Other priorities are - restoring U.S. systems is a priority. There are other water projects that are important that have to do with finding - in some cases, it's finding, depending on what part of the country you're from it's either finding enough water or managing water properly in case where there are floods and making sure that the - we've got good flood monitoring - that sort of thing. So, yeah, it's basically according to those charters. [0:54:11.8]

MALE SPEAKER: (inaudible at 0:54:17.0) Thank you very much for the tour through Pasteur's squadron. Could you tell us a little bit more about what's up with all those earthquakes?


DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Yes. Well, certainly this has been a busy two months for USGS for both our communications people and particularly our seismologists. The people at the USGS have really responded well to - I mean I could - I was prepared to go on for at least a half an hour on all that we've done. The first thing that I can say about it is that there was really nothing all that unusual about the Haiti earthquake. It was a magnitude 7 earthquake. And the State of Alaska has about one magnitude 7 earthquake a year. [0:55:22.5]

So, it's, in terms of being the kind of earthquake that would draw a lot of public attention, the reason it did was that it struck very close to a major city that was totally unprepared for it. But there was nothing about the size of the earthquake that would have made anyone's top anything list.

The Chilean earthquake was a very large earthquake. It made the top five. So that was a remarkable earthquake. The Haiti earthquake was only remarkable in where it struck. It struck a place that hadn't had a large earthquake for over a hundred years. And so, the people were very unprepared for it. And the death toll was extremely large. [0:56:13.8]

I believe that the important thing that we, as Americans, can do other than helping our neighbors as much as we can is really take this chance to learn as much as we can from both of these earthquakes. And, what we learned from Haiti is the fact that we have faults in this country that have not given rise to a large earthquake in more than a hundred years but we know could. Because the Charleston earthquake, the New Madrid earthquake were both more than a hundred years ago but those parts of this country are not at all prepared in terms of their earthquake engineering or the preparation of their populous to withstand a large earthquake. So, do we want to sit back and say we'll behave and say oh, that's never going to happen to us? I don't know if we should be quite that smug. [0:57:15.9]

We can look at Chile and say that's probably a larger earthquake that we expected on any of our California faults. But perhaps not a larger earthquake than we could expect on the Puget Sound area or that we could expect in the Anchorage area. We know that in 1700, January 26, 1700, there was a magnitude 9 earthquake in Puget Sound. And if there were a repeat of that earthquake, we would have to look at how the infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest would react. And would we have similar problems of collapsing bridges and collapsing highways and collapsing overpasses? [0:58:09.8]

So, the people of Chile were 400 times better prepared than the people of Haiti. And we should take it upon ourselves to be 800 times better prepared than the people of Haiti so that - because it's not just in the death toll. It's also in the economic destruction in the months afterwards. And we have to be sure that we can get people back to working. In other words, what do you do in the week afterward? Are you picking up the pieces of your lives or are you getting back to work? And that's when the dollar start really mounting up in terms of what the toll is of these disasters. [0:58:59.6]

FEMALE SPEAKER SPEAKER: How is your - what agency is (inaudible at 0:59:06.8) what agency, so to speak, is responsible that you all study what kinds of maybe building are better designed and that sort of thing?


FEMALE SPEAKER SPEAKER: How do you get those kind of changes to occur?

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Very good question. Okay. That's an excellent question. There are several parts to this. First of all, the work of the USGS is to; first of all, determine what's the magnitude of earthquake that can happen in a certain area? So that's based on how long is the fault segment and therefore, how large is the earthquake that's going to happen? And then we put in by knowing through installing seismometers what is the behavior of the ground so we get strong ground motion? So we know at what frequency the ground is going to shake. So we can then give that information to engineers. [1:00:04.3]

And engineers can take the spectrum of strong ground motion and they can convert that to building design. Because what we've learned from experience is that a building that gets into the rhythm of the earthquake shakes itself to death. So you've got to design a building that does not get into a simpatico (ph) motion with the earthquake and fall apart. And so, engineers have become very good at doing that. And so the kind of building that you would build for a strong ground motion that's in a certain frequency band is different.

And so the USGS has put together hazard maps for the entire U.S. in different frequency bands so engineers can look at those maps and say for Utah, this part of Utah, this is the kind of building I have to build. For New Madrid, this is the kind of building I have to build. And so they know exactly what to do in different parts of the country because of different soil types, different rock and different depths of ground, soil and things like that. And so those maps have been very useful for engineers for knowing what kind of buildings to build. [1:01:26.7]

MALE SPEAKER: I'll ask a friendlier question.


MALE SPEAKER: How prepared are we? Are we better or worse prepared than Chile?

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Well, I would say that I don't think we're worse prepared than Chile. One thing that we have done is we've had drills. You know like when you were in school and you had fire drills? We've had earthquake drills. They have gone through scenarios just like the whole thing that Chile went through. [1:02:09.7]

But we've had earthquake drills that went through mock disasters like what Chile went through and found a lot of holes in our preparedness of how the state and the local and national people worked together that have helped us plug those gaps so that we know when the real thing occurs how to work more seamlessly to make sure that there's not the sort of chaos afterwards where radios aren't talking to each other because they aren't even the same frequencies and stuff like that. So I think that because of those exercises, we are a little better prepared. [1:03:01.1]

But I don't want to fault Chileans because I think they did a pretty good job under the circumstances. And, the one thing I am concerned about is our transportation infrastructure because we saw it in Loma Prieta the collapse of the overpass over in Oakland. And I think what forty something people died just in that one structure alone.

That's a long way from the epicenter. That was a 6.7 or something earthquake. It wasn't even a particularly big earthquake. A long way from the epicenter, that collapsed, and I don't think we've invested a lot into our transport infrastructure since that earthquake. So I would say what we saw in Chile in terms of collapsing roads and infrastructure could be exactly what we're in for if we don't start worrying about aging bridges. [1:04:06.7]

We saw the Bay Bridge close down just a couple months ago without even an earthquake because they saw welts that they thought oh, this bridge is about to fall down. And we don't even have an earthquake. So, I think they are big issues with our roadway systems that we need to worry about.

MALE SPEAKER: How do you do the frequency survey of soils? I mean that presumes that all earthquakes are going to be the same, doesn't it?

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Well actually they put these strong ground motion instruments in and they - well you know, Walter, why don't you take that question?



WALTER MOONEY: That's a good question. I do that kind of work and we have something called the scaling (inaudible at 1:04:53.5) that's empirically determined. You do it with many different earthquakes. And you see what the earth looks like. And then it's not too much scatter. So even though you report a small earthquake today, you know how to extrapolate that to a future large earthquake and know where your error bars are. So it's like a (inaudible at 1:05:13.0) a small bank collapsing verses - [1:05:16.0]


WALTER MOONEY: With a little - with a small (inaudible at 1:05:20.0) don't worry about AGI.


MALE SPEAKER: So you can test your model by measuring the regular, little magnitude 3 earthquakes?

WALTER MOONEY: You measure it. You actually measure it. The little guys and you apply little guys to the big guys.

MALE SPEAKER: So you have empirical data that says that (inaudible at 1:05:35.7)

MALE SPEAKER: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.


DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: In fact that was a wonderful thing that the USGS did decades ago was they put a whole network of the strong ground motion instruments in buildings all over L.A. and all over San Francisco. And they got a lot of great data.

WALTER MOONEY: Can I say one more thing? (inaudible at 1:05:56.4) you made me think; how well prepared are we? You know the best prepared country we thought was Japan. Basically this is decades into it. And in 1995, the Kobe earthquake occurred we learned a lot from the Japanese. The Japanese did as well because 6,000 people died. Overpasses fell down. And so you know you're only as - [1:06:16.4]

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: And they had a fire following the earthquake that burned city blocks.

WALTER MOONEY: So we can learn a lot from Haiti. And we can learn a lot from Chile. Because you always feel you're prepared but you have to go look at those hospitals and schools and see how did they really do? It's empirical sciences as you've just mentioned in terms of your -

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: And I'm guessing that we'll see improved engineering standards as a result of Chile. So each of these - Kobe, we can learn a lot from Kobe. And Japan actually has a result of Kobe has an early warning system. So they are the one of the first countries (inaudible at 1:06:59.8) [1:07:01.9]

SUZETTE KIMBALL: I'd like to take this time to thank Marcia McNutt for her presentation tonight.


SUZETTE KIMBALL: The gentleman who was just speaking is Walter Mooney, one of our esteemed seismologists and I'm -

DR. MARCIA MCNUTT: Who has just returned from Haiti.

SUZETTE KIMBALL: From Haiti and has been looking at both these events. So I'm sure if you tackle him quickly -


SUZETTE KIMBALL: You may be able to continue the conversation. And I'd like to encourage you to come up and meet Dr. McNutt and have any other further conversations that you'd like to have with her in the next few minutes. Additionally, we'd like to invite you to attend our next public lecture series in the public lecture series and that's next - or next Wednesday - next month on Wednesday, April the 1st. No April fool's here. [1:07:54.4]


SUZETTE KIMBALL: At 7:00 p.m. here in this auditorium again. And our topic is Wandering Wildlife: Tracking the Movement Migrations and Mileage from Wolves to Wading (ph) Birds by two of our ecologists, Dr. David Mech and Robert Gill. And so please join us again and take this opportunity to meet both Walter and Marcia. Thank you.


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