Supporting UK Passive Seismology

Following recent BGA sponsored meetings, the UK passive seismology community have produced a report detailing a vision for the future of broadband passive seismology. This aims to start a discussion on the infrastructure needed in the UK to support this. You can find the full report here and the executive summary below. We welcome feedback and comments. Please get in touch via futureseismic@geophysics.org.uk or the comments section below.

Executive Summary

Passive seismology has long been used to study the interior of the Earth. By recording and analysing seismic waves we can monitor fault movements during earthquakes, track the evolution of volcanic eruptions and help understanindexd and monitor human induced seismicity. We use these data to develop models of the Earth or other planets, from sedimentary basins in the shallow crust to large scale images of continental margins, ridges and subduction zones and the whole planet to help understand tectonic processes or planetary formation. To date, the UK has played a leading role in passive seismology. This includes making some of the first seismic recordings, using seismology to help  develop plate tectonic theory and more recently, using large arrays of seismometers to  understand tectonic processes.

This document concerns the future. New emerging technology provides an opportunity for more detailed images of the subsurface on all spatial scales. For example, new autonomous vehicles, low power ocean bottom sensors or use of trans-ocean fibre optic cables could allow us to instrument the whole ocean for the first time. New, low cost, low power land-based instruments mean that we can use dense networks of sensors. This can provide orders of magnitude improvements in resolution, thus help understand processes in more detail than before. However, this equipment is not available to the UK academic community, which means we risk losing our place at the forefront of this field.

Together with important blue skies discoveries, future societal grand challenges would benefit from enhanced passive seismology capacity. Examples highlighted in this report include, future energy production such as geothermal and hydropower and carbon capture and storage solutions, which require monitoring of seismicity for production and safety. As our vulnerability to natural hazards increases, a better understanding of earthquake dynamics and volcanic processes will allow us to develop better forecasting and monitoring strategies. Finally, passive seismology is now being widely used to monitor environmental changes such as ice sheet breakup, changes in subsurface water or tracking storms at sea.

The past and future success of passive seismology is underpinned by the community having access to the most advanced technology. This allows researchers to develop and execute large scale projects beyond their individual capacity. Delivering the scientific objectives outlined in this report can be achieved through developing the capability of the NERC Geophysical Equipment Facility. In particular, access to the following instrumentation is necessary to allow the UK to remain at the forefront of passive seismology:

1. Tens to hundreds of traditional land and ocean broad-band seismometers.
2. Thousands of low power, low cost seismic sensors (so-called seismic nodes).
3. Suitable computing resources to handle the increase in data and meta-data.

The community recognise that this may require different ways of working including closer partnerships with manufacturers and industry. We also believe that it is essential that a future facility can monitor and ideally lead development of new technologies that show potential (e.g., fibre optics, rotational sensors and subsea autonomous vehicles).

Read the full report here: Community_Vision_Future_Broadband_Passive_Seismology

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