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UCD GEL 17: Earthquakes and Other Earth Hazards (Kellogg) - Geosciences

UCD GEL 17: Earthquakes and Other Earth Hazards (Kellogg) - Geosciences


UCD GEL 17: Earthquakes and Other Earth Hazards (Kellogg) - Geosciences

Learning and teaching are part of the scientific adventure. We learn when we are curious and excited to know more. We teach to share that excitement and a new way of thinking about the world we live in. Prof. Billen engages in education through:

Learning continues for all of us, no matter what stage of our careers or how old we are. Here are links to some excellent resources videos on writing and speaking, two things that I continue to learn about and work to improve everyday.

  • The Craft of Writing Effectively by Larry McEnerney (you-tube video)
  • How to Speak by Patrick Wilson (MIT) (you-tube video)

Teaching Undergraduate and Graduate Courses

I usually teach two undergraduate and one graduate course each year.

  • GEL 50: Introduction to Physical Geology (last taught Winter, 2020)
  • GEL 56: Introduction to Geophysics (last taught Spring, 2020
  • GEL161: Geophysical Field Methods (last taught Spring, 2019)
  • GEL 219: Fracture and Flow of Rocks (last taught Fall, 2019)
  • GEL 217: Topics in Geophysics (last taught Winter, 2015)

I have also taught these other courses in the past:

  • GEL 17: Earthquakes and other Hazards
  • GEL 101: Earth Dynamics II: Structural Geology
  • GEL 150B: Geological Oceanography
  • GEL 390: Teaching and Writing in Geology

Mentoring Undergraduate and Graduate Students in Research

Learning to do scientific research occurs by doing research with guidance (and then re-doing it because its usually not quite right the first time). Our group usually has 1 to 3 graduate students and 1 to 2 undergraduate students. We try to pair up undergraduate students with graduate student projects. This provides more mentoring for the undergraduate student and an opportunity for the graduate student to learn how to teach and mentor while getting useful data or model results for their own research.

Potential graduate students should contact Dr. Billen by e-mail to determine if there are openings for new graduate students in the group. Please include a description of any research experience, your coursework or other knowledge-building experiences, specific research interests, and degree goals. Due to the nature of the research topics and tools used in our research potential graduate students should have a strong mathematics (including linear algebra and differential equations) and geophysics (or physics, fluid dynamics or continuum mechanics) background, with some experience in computer programming (e.g., matlab, python,…), and a strong interest in building on these skills extensively.

Undergraduate students interested in doing research for credit in their sophomore (GEL 99) or junior (GEL 199) years or a senior thesis (GEL 194) should contact Dr. Billen by e-mail to arrange a time to talk. Please include information about your year, your coursework (geology, geophysics, mathematics, physics, computer programming), and any specific research interests)

Development of Teaching Tools

/>With funding from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Career award and careful work by an undergraduate research assistant (Jessie Saunders) we developed tools for teaching students how to think about and envision complex 3D geologic structures. There are movies for demonstrations or homework assignments. Data sets can be used with interactive 3D visualization software for labs or more in depth learning activities. These tools and data sets are available from the 3D Geologic Structures Visualization Education Project.


1. Introduction

[2] The contribution of dust plumes from Africa to the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, and the Amazon Basin is now well documented [ Duce et al., 1980 Savoie and Prospero, 1980 Talbot et al., 1988 Swap et al., 1992 Prospero, 1999 Stuut et al., 2005 ], especially since the availability of satellite imagery. Estimates of the amount of dust transported from Africa identify that huge amounts of sediment are deflated from African soils and lake basins. Griffin [2007] recently reviewed our knowledge of the microbial content (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) of airborne dust from many parts of the world that raise concerns not only for human health but also the “health” of the environment, including coral reefs with several bleachings of corals registered after African dust reached the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean [ Shinn et al., 2000 ]. In addition, high concentrations of particular metals can occur in airborne dust, such as mercury found in Florida, are now considered to have originated from African dust [ Landing et al., 1995 Holmes and Miller, 2004 ]. All these phenomena associated with aeolian dust deserve much consideration in Australia as too few investigations have been carried out on dust composition, especially with respect to its organic composition and microbiology, plus metals. Nevertheless, there are already several published accounts on the sedimentological characteristics and inorganic chemistry of several dust deposits [ McTainsh, 1989 Hesse, 1994 Hesse and McTainsh, 2003 Marx et al., 2005 Petherick et al., 2008 ]. It is noteworthy that many Australian dust plumes originate from (hyper)saline lake floors, i.e., organic, metal, and microbial contents pertinent to saline conditions [ De Deckker, 1988 ] and it is at the source of dust that investigations need to be carried out, and it is our intention to eventually investigate the effects of Australian dust on oceanic life, including corals and the seafloor microbiology. The study presented herewith is the first attempt at using as many techniques as possible to “fingerprint” a sample of airborne dust, much of which became available after a spectacular dust fall associated with some rain in October 2002 in Canberra, the capital city of Australia [ McTainsh et al., 2005 ].


Virtual reality used to study Haiti, Baja earthquakes

Geologists at the University of California, Davis, are getting a close-up look at the effects of recent catastrophic earthquakes in Haiti and Baja California — without setting foot off campus. Virtual reality equipment at the UC Davis Keck Center for Active Visualization in Earth Sciences is allowing researchers to assess damage and predict whether faults are likely to move again in the near future.

The project could also be a foretaste of future disaster response, when detailed, near real-time three-dimensional imaging may enable both emergency planners and scientists to help from afar.

“Since the Haiti disaster in January, several large earthquakes have caused significant loss of life and property around the world,” said Louise Kellogg, professor of geology at UC Davis and director of the Keck Center. “While such a series of large earthquakes is not unusual, statistically speaking, it does focus attention on how vulnerable societies are to such events — and on the need for better preparation and understanding of earthquakes.”

The UC Davis facility, a collaboration among computer scientists and geologists, features projection screens on three walls that create an immersive, interactive environment. Using the facility, scientists can walk — or fly — into a three-dimensional, virtual representation of a landscape.

The U.S. Geological Survey tapped the center’s scientists immediately after the Jan. 12 Haiti earthquake to help analyze the very large sets of data coming in from satellites and aerial imaging of the disaster area.

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck near Mexicali just south of the Mexico-U.S. border on April 4 provided another opportunity for the Keck Center to gather and analyze data.

Much of the earthquake data used by the Keck Center researchers is collected by a form of imaging known as LiDAR, for light detection and ranging. LiDAR scans the ground with pulses of laser light to create a very accurate, three-dimensional representation of the Earth’s surface — including buildings, geological features and vegetation.

At UC Davis, LiDAR images are being combined with existing topographic maps and aerial photographs using software called Crusta, developed by Tony Bernardin, a graduate student in computer science at UC Davis.

The software allows researchers to “fly” over the terrain, swoop down to examine interesting features and pick out and highlight details that would otherwise be hard to see.

For example, warehouses by the harbor in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, look undamaged on a satellite photo, said Eric Cowgill, associate professor of geology at UC Davis.

But with three-dimensional imaging, ripples become apparent in the roofs, indicating that the buildings are more damaged than they appear.

“If you were on the ground, you could see this damage, but a physical inspection is not very efficient — and you would be getting in the way of rescue and recovery operations,” Cowgill said.

The UC Davis team remains in the early stages of analyzing the LiDAR data. The scientists have downloaded more than 1.5 terabytes of data, according to research specialist Chris Bowles, and have interactively visualized data sets containing more than 2.7 billion point measurements in files 60 gigabytes or larger on disk.

The geologists hope the data will allow a better understanding of the Enriquillo fault, which runs for 750 miles east-west through Haiti and the Caribbean. About 20 miles of the fault moved in the Jan. 12 quake, and more earthquakes could follow along the fault as a result.

Michael Oskin, an assistant professor of geology at UC Davis, is leading the study of the Mexicali quake, which he says will yield the largest, most comprehensive set of data on an earthquake rupture to date. (Unlike the Haiti earthquake, which involved movement in a fault deep underground, the Mexicali earthquake created a rupture in the ground surface).

“We can map out the rupture — and see more in the virtual environment than we could if we were on the ground,” Oskin said.

Oskin hopes that the effort will improve scientists’ understanding of how faults work and behave, and allow better prediction of a fault’s seismic hazard.

Even before the Haiti earthquake, the UC Davis team was already discussing with state and federal officials and other scientists how to use the Keck Center’s powerful computer imaging in responding to earthquakes.

In California, for example, extensive baseline LiDAR and aerial mapping now under way could be used to generate before-and-after comparisons following future major earthquakes.

The Haiti earthquake is providing an opportunity to test some of these concepts.

“We’re learning how complex the process is, and how much data there will be when this happens in California,” Kellogg said.

Data collection from Haiti is being led by the University of Rochester and funded by the World Bank. The U.S. Geological Survey has played a coordinating role in bringing institutions together.

The Keck Center was established in 2004 with a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation. Research and student participation in the center is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 32,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $600 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.


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