June 21, 2018
Most researchers rely on human records and data collected by seismic equipment to investigate earthquakes. But for CEE assistant professor Brett Maurer, these techniques are too contemporary. He plans to investigate earthquakes for which no record exists. To do so, he will study the only evidence left behind: soil liquefaction.
For his novel research approach, Maurer received an NSF Early CAREER Award, which supports faculty members who demonstrate the potential to become academic leaders of the 21st century.
Across the nation there are many regions, including Seattle, where large earthquakes have historically occurred, but few details are known. By studying these earthquakes, Maurer hopes to expose important information, such as the magnitudes, recurrence rates, and locations of fault ruptures, which can be used to inform the development of more resilient buildings and infrastructure.
Because these earthquakes predate human records and seismic instruments, the only remaining evidence is earthquake-induced soil liquefaction, called “paleoliquefaction.” Liquefaction causes soil to behave like a liquid and flow like water during earthquakes. The liquefied soil leaves behind evidence where pressure causes it to penetrate through upper layers of solid soil, causing an eruption at the ground surface.
Maurer’s research aims to improve the forensic analysis of this evidence and will be applied in regions where enigmatic seismic hazards significantly impact society, including the Cascadia Subduction Zone of the Northwest U.S.; the New Madrid Seismic Zone of the Central U.S.; the South Carolina Coastal Plain of the Eastern U.S.; and Coastal New England in the Northeast U.S.