Project Overview

Deep Earth Imaging of the Alaskan Subduction Zone

Faculty Sponsor

Aubreya Adams (




  The southern margin of Alaska is one of the most volcanically and seismically (earthquakes) active areas of the world, and is home to one of the largest subduction zones on Earth. Tremendous variability is observed, however, from east to west along the boundary. Some areas generate record-breaking earthquakes, while others are relatively quiescent. This variability leads to several important - yet unanswered - questions about the dynamics and hazards of the Alaskan subduction zone. For example – what factors control the type of movement along the subduction interfaces, with massive earthquakes in some areas and creeping boundaries in other areas? How are fluids and gasses transported through the system, and how do they influence volcanic and seismic behavior? How variable is flow within the mantle, and does this influence tectonic, volcanic, and seismic behavior? 
  To study these critical questions, data on ground motion was collected in a large collaborative experiment from 2018-2019, using 105 seismometers on land and at the bottom of the ocean.  Student researchers are invited to dive into this unprecedented dataset, working to build a model of how the Alaskan subduction zone works deep inside the earth.  To build this model, students will use a technique called seismic tomography, which is similar to CAT scans from the medical field - only it images the inside of the earth using earthquake waves instead of light waves!   The primary goals of this summer research experience are to find and highlight the best earthquake signals recorded by the Alaskan seismometers and to build an initial model of the subsurface.
  Earthquake data is digital, so day-to-day research will be primarily computer based, using Linux and Matlab.  Prior experience with Matlab and Linux is not required for this research project, but a desire to learn (or further develop) these skills and to experiment with new techniques will be very helpful.  Training in Matlab and Linux, as well as with basic computer scripting, will be provided, and students are strongly encouraged to work on further developing their own skillsets during the project.

Student Qualifications

At least 1 geology, physics, or computer science course.

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 01/03/2021 and close on 03/22/2021

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (