SMU researchers, professors discuss hazard posed by earthquakes

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Dr. Heather DeShon, SMU associate professor of geophysics, and Brian Stump, SMU Claude C. Albritton Chair in Geological Sciences, presented their findings from their North Texas Earthquake project at a Faculty Club luncheon on Wednesday.

The luncheon consisted of around 50 current and past faculty and staff from various departments. Guests arrived at noon and sat at one of the seven large tables in the Collins Center Dining Room, intermixing professors and faculty from all different departments.

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“We are always looking for SMU faculty and research that is interesting but also not solely academic but, in a sense, that is recognizable outside of the university,” Faculty Club Director Richard Alm said.

The North Texas Earthquake project has received much media attention in the past months due to the recent increase of earthquakes in the North Texas area. The team has worked closely with the SMU University Research Center, which provided funding for the project, SMU ISEM, the city of Irving, and the United States Geological Survey.

“I never imagined I would be studying earthquakes outside my backdoor,” Stump said.

Since Oct. 31, 2008, the Dallas/Fort Worth area has experienced over 192 earthquakes, including 31 tremors with a magnitude greater than three. Before this time, earthquakes in the area were virtually nonexistent, with none having been reported in the Dallas Morning News archive.

DeShon, Stump and a team of over 10 professors, graduate students, undergraduates students, and several others focused their research on five different sequences in the area: Irving, DFW airport, Venus, Cleburne and Azle.

“Collaboration is key,” DeShon said. “Each person has different pieces of information.”

From their research, the team found correlations between earthquakes and wastewater that is used to collect oil from within the earth. While this process is not the only reason for the tremors in the area, their studies do reasonably conclude that wastewater acts as a trigger on several occasions.

The pair urged professors to consider student safety measures in case an earthquake were to occur in Dallas. As their research suggests, the USGS may increase the earthquake hazard level in Dallas due to the increasing frequency of the earthquakes and the possibility of larger ones striking the city.

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“I’m concerned about the bricks,” Stump said. “SMU is actually the largest collection of bricks in the Dallas area.”

DeShon completed her undergraduate work in geophysics at SMU in 1999. She worked with some of the same professors who taught her; however, several had already left the university before she began her career at SMU.

“You come back as an adult and flashback to all those experiences from when you were 18,” said DeShon. “It’s not anything I expected to happen, but it’s fun.”

The Faculty Club hosts several luncheons and speakers throughout the year as well as a Boulevard tent at home football games. It is a membership open to all faculty, staff, retired faculty, retired staff and alumni.

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