Environmental Sciences Research Institute
The University of Ulster Geophysics Research Group undertakes research into processes in the shallow crust of the Earth. In particular we focus on understanding the science of earthquakes, where and why they start and stop and what controls their timing and size. The main focus of our work recently is on the Sumatran megathrust where a series of large earthquakes in the last few years has not only resulted in massive devastation and loss of life, but has given science a completely unprecedented insight into the working of subduction zones where one plate is forced under another generating the Earth’s largest and frequently most destructive earthquakes.
Over the last almost 15 years we have worked on the problem of earthquake communication by stress transfer. When an earthquake occurs the slip on one fault deforms the surrounding crust and can either increase or decrease or decrease the stresses on neighbouring faults making other earthquakes more or less likely. Starting from applying this science to the Sumatran earthquakes we have become more involved in the general problems of understanding the accumulation and release of stress over hundred-year time scales in this area and well as in developing methods for estimating stress-related changes in earthquake probabilities. This work is not only extremely challenging from a scientific perspective but also has real social implications. The next large earthquake off-shore western Sumatra has the potential to cause death and devastation on a similar scale to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The Sumatran work and its strong social context has spawned collaborations with social scientists and with international humanitarian NGOs. This work is currently attempting to increase awareness of the scientific progress towards identifying areas under particular earthquake threat so that preparation for inevitable earthquakes can be improved. The group is committed to increasing our efforts in this direction.
We have also begun to work on carbon dioxide sequestration and have obtained funding to investigate the potential hazards associated with the injection of fluids into critically-stressed rock masses. Such injection is known to induce earthquakes which have a finite hazard potential and well as the potential for contributing to fluid loss from storage. Earthquake induced by other stressing mechanisms, such as ice melting, are also thought to be important and the group are actively developing proposals to explore this potentially important hazard.
The Geophysics Research Group examines the following areas of research:
- Integration of the science of high probability unpredictable hazards into disaster reduction programmes: Lessons from West Sumatra
Staff and Students
John McCloskey - Professor of Geophysics
Suleyman Nalbant - Reader in Geophysics
Sandy Steacy - Professor of Earthquake Physics (Director, ESRI)
Shane Murphy - Research Associate
Denise De Gaetano - PhD Student
Anthony Lindsay - PhD Student
Keira Quinn - PhD Student