Hamilton visiting scholar details truth behind Texas earthquakes

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Humans can cause earthquakes. This was the topic of Dr. Cliff Frohlich’s talk at the 2017-2018 Hamilton Visiting Scholar Lecture Feb. 5 in McCord Auditorium.

Frohlich is a recently retired senior research scientist and associate director in the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas-Austin. Throughout his career he has studied earthquakes, authoring or coauthoring more than 100 publications on many types of earthquakes. He is a coauthor of the book “Texas Earthquakes” and author of “Deep Earthquakes.”

Frohlich’s involvement with earthquakes in North Texas began 9 1/2 years ago on Halloween night of 2008, when a series of 10 earthquakes were felt by citizens of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“Being a so-called ‘earthquake expert’ in Texas, I got all of these phone calls,” Frohlich said. “It’s an Andy Warhol moment where suddenly everyone wants to talk to you.”

Since the 2008 Dallas-Fort Worth earthquakes, Frohlich has been a close collaborator with the seismologists at SMU. Frohlich’s lecture discussed the past, present, and future of human-caused earthquakes and a few of the policy issues that surround this topic. His discoveries from the human-caused 2008 Dallas-Fort Worth earthquakes have contributed greatly to his work on earthquakes that followed in the state of Texas over time.

From 2008 to 2015, Frohlich and SMU faculty worked closely together, studying specific earthquakes in North Texas, specifically the DFW, Azle and Johnson county earthquakes. They responded to each of them by deploying networks in these regions that expanded as they collected data.

Dr. Heather DeShon is one of the seismologists working on the local earthquakes in North Texas today.

“Our research collaboration with Cliff grew,” DeShon said. “It is more efficient to have him on campus [because] he is a great ideas guy.”

The Hamilton Visiting Scholar Lecture is a tradition in the scholar’s program. The visiting scholar is usually a well-known geophysics professor from another university who has collaborated on research with SMU faculty and stays for some part of the year.

According to DeShon, who joined the faculty in 2012, they are trying to restart the program.

“Dr. Frohlich is the first [Hamilton] scholar in quite a while,” DeShon said. “I’m not really sure how long [but] he is the first since I have been here.”

Around 50 SMU students, faculty and interested community members attended the event Tuesday evening.

SMU sophomore Kate Vogel attended the lecture after hearing about it in her geology class.

“I really enjoyed learning about human-caused earthquakes and the reasons behind them,” Vogel said. “I had no idea that humans could even cause earthquakes, especially at such a high magnitude.”

After his extensive research on human-caused earthquakes, Frohlich suspects that with time, these types of earthquakes will be a thing of the past.

“Is that true? I don’t know,” Frohlich said. “But times are changing, the energy industry is different than it was in 1925, in 1975, and it is going to be different in 50 years from today.”

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