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February 21, 2014
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

New $59,340 seismograph boosts student research opportunities

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Picture Slippery Rock University students conducting science fieldwork in a variety of locations - direct investigation of exposed rocks above ground and now indirect imaging of rocks below ground for the first time thanks to the University's purchase of a $59,340 seismograph.

SRU has ordered a 48-channel seismograph that will allow students to explore and visualize subservice geologic structures and strata. The system measures seismic waves, or underground acoustics, that travel underground. Students will be able to map up to 100 meters of rock features, said Brian Miller, SRU assistant professor of geography, geology and the environment.

"Among this research will be the opportunity to collect seismic reflection information as applied to geological, environmental and engineering purposes," Miller said. "We will be able to generate acoustic waves that travel into the subsurface which then return to the surface where they are recorded by the seismographs," Miller said. "With this technology, we can determine the positions of subsurface geologic layers, geologic structure and other material properties."

Students will be able to observe data as it is being acquired in the field through the use of an interfaced laptop. More detailed analysis and processing will be conducted after data has been collected through the use of desktop computers.

SRU's College of Health, Environment and Science funded the Geometric Incorporates seismograph. The system is on order and is expected to arrive in five or six weeks.

Miller said the department is developing a core set of geophysical courses that will utilize the seismograph. The class "Introduction to Geophysics" launched in January. A follow-up course is being designed and will be a geophysical field methods course.

"It is important for students to get hands-on experience with the equipment to see how it operates, how it is deployed and how to analyze acquired data," Miller said. "This practical experience is beneficial because it will give students first-hand experience with equipment and techniques that are used for environmental investigations and on a larger scale for oil and natural gas exploration."

Seismographs measure motions of the ground, including those seismic waves generated by earthquakes, volcanoes and other seismic sources.

Miller said the 48 channels refer to geophones, like sensors, that get pushed into the ground. The geophones sense returning acoustic waves as they bounce off rocks in the subsurface and return to the surface. The seismograph system then records and stores data so students can investigate and understand other features such as depth, thickness and geometry. Recording can be from all 48 channels or from a smaller number of channels situated on the site, Miller said.

Michael Zieg, SRU associate professor of geography, geology and the environment, said student researchers will be able to use the seismograph to locate and constrain geologic layers that potentially could be storage rocks for potential pollutants such as may be associated with Marcellus shale drilling.

"With Marcellus, you want to know how far down you can drill," Zieg said.

In some fieldwork research, Zieg said students will pound on the ground with sledgehammers to make the seismic waives that bounce off rock, giving students the acoustics they need to measure structures. While this method of producing acoustic waves does not have the energy required to reach the depths of the Marcellus shale the seismograph system is the same equipment and techniques seismic exploration companies use to image the Marcellus shale and other potential hydrocarbon bearing formations. Exposure to the seismograph system through class work and student projects will give student the experience to move further in either environmental or exploration geophysics, he said.

SRU's geography, geology and environment department launched in 2001 when SRU merged geography and environmental studies with environmental geosciences. SRU makes fields trips available to students at least once a year. Students have conducted geology research in St. Lawrence Valley in Newfoundland, The Badlands in South Dakota, and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.