Rensselaer earth research featured at AGU fall meeting in San Francisco

November 28, 2005

TROY, N.Y. -- Sixteen Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers will present results ranging from imaging earthquake activity at the San Andreas Fault to exploring life in extreme environments at the 2005 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting Dec. 5-9 in San Francisco.

For more information about the AGU meeting, including presentation abstracts, visit

The following are a few highlights of Rensselaer research to be presented:

Earthquake imaging at the San Andreas Fault
Steven Roecker, geophysics professor at Rensselaer, and undergraduate student Ashley Shuler are collaborating with University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers to analyze five years of seismic activity data from the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD). A component of EarthScope, SAFOD is a national project that involves drilling two miles into the Earth's surface to reveal what processes underneath the fault enable plates to slip and slide past one another. As part of his work on SAFOD, Roecker has set up an advanced network of instrumentation at the site to record seismic data on a continuous basis. The researchers are using inverse problem techniques to image what's below the surface, refining knowledge of 3-D crustal structure, wave propagation characteristics, and earthquake locations around the site, with the goal of understanding what causes earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault.
(T24B-05: Tuesday, Dec. 6, 5 p.m., MCC 3011, "Refined images of the crust around the SAFOD drill site derived from combined active and passive seismic experimental data")

Life in extreme environments
What clues about life and chemistry can be found in extreme environments? Anurag Sharma, biogeochemistry professor at Rensselaer, is exploring how microbes in extreme environments survive and grow and whether organic resources can be generated at such extreme conditions. Sharma's cross-disciplinary research uses physics tools such as diamond anvil cells and high-pressure vessels to investigate biological and bio-geochemical processes. Sharma and graduate student Rui Zou have been experimenting with the role of interactions between minerals and geochemical fluids by simulating conditions found deep in the Earth's crust. In this presentation, Sharma will discuss recent results that demonstrate it is possible to create methane in the absence of life processes using inorganic chemicals available at deep subsurface conditions. He will also highlight caveats overlooked by several earlier attempts to create such abiotic synthesis. In an educational poster presentation at the meeting, Sharma will present results on how some microbes adapt to such extreme conditions while others perish.
(B23D-06: Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2:55 p.m., Marriott Salon 13, "Abiotic methane synthesis: Caveats and new results")
(ED11B-1100: Monday, Dec. 5, 8 a.m. to 12:20 p.m., Poster Session, MCC Level 2, "A visual approach towards introduction of bio-geochemistry at non-ambient conditions")

Modeling the 2004 Sumatra Earthquake with GPS
What can GPS measurements tell us about the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake? Ashley Shuler, an undergraduate student in geology at Rensselaer, collaborated with researchers at University of Alaska-Fairbanks and India's Centre for Earth Studies to create a slip model of the 9.0 Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake 2004 using GPS data from 65 networked sites throughout the region. Shuler will discuss her research model, which shows the slip and movement of the faults along the tectonic plate boundaries and each fault segment's contribution to displacement at the site, as well as the earthquake-caused changes in longitude and latitude.
(G11A-1199: Monday, Dec. 5, 8 a.m. to 12:20 p.m., Poster Session, MCC Level 2, "A slip model for the Mw 9.0 2004 Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake based on GPS measurements of coseismic displacement")
About Rensselaer
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation's oldest technological university. The university offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the humanities and social sciences. Institute programs serve undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals around the world. Rensselaer faculty are known for pre-eminence in research conducted in a wide range of fields, with particular emphasis in biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and the media arts and technology. The Institute is well known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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