Rob Witter, Ph.D.

I conduct geological detective work that uncovers clues about the location, size, and frequency of ancient earthquakes and tsunamis. If we prepare for these hazards we can prevent future earthquakes and tsunamis from becoming future disasters.


Research Focus

I study prehistoric earthquakes along the Pacific-North American plate boundary. I apply aspects of geomorphology, paleoseismology, geodesy, and sea-level studies to decipher the geologic record of ancient earthquakes. Most of my work focuses on great subduction earthquakes capable of generating tsunamis. What I find out contributes to seismic and tsunami hazards assessments used to strengthen building codes and reduce tsunami risk.

Research Highlights

Mind the Gap: New Evidence for Alaskan Tsunamis Found
LiveScience reporter Becky Oskin highlights USGS findings that help fill gaps in Alaska’s earthquake and tsunami history.

Unknown Tsunami Trigger Hides Along a Creeping Aleutian Fault
EOS writer Cody Sullivan reviews USGS tsunami research published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Uncharted: Exploring one of America’s fastest faults
A team of USGS scientists spent 10 days in the wilderness investigating the Fairweather Fault.

Return to the Alaska Wilderness
USGS Scientists visit one of North America’s fastest-moving faults.


BA in Biology, 1991, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA
PhD in Geoscience, 1999, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

Professional Experience

2011 – Present, Research Geologist, U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, Anchorage, AK
2006 – 2011, Regional Coastal Geologist, Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, Newport, OR
1999 – 2006, Senior Project Geologist, William Lettis & Associates, Inc., Walnut Creek, CA