IRIS/SSA Distinguished Lectureship

For more than 10 years, the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and the Seismological Society of America are proud to offer fascinating non-technical presentations on seismology-related topics to general audiences across the US through its IRIS/SSA Distinguished Lectureship Program. Each speaker is an expert in his/her specific research area and is skilled in effectively communicating new and exciting findings to the public. Lectures are typically presented at science museums, universities or similar settings as part of the venues’ established speaker series. Up to two IRIS/SSA Distinguished Lecturers are selected each calendar year (depending on funding) with each scientist presenting 3-6 lectures.

NOTE: In some cases, Department seminars may be scheduled in conjunction with a Public Lecture.

For more information, please contact:

Perle Dorr
IRIS Education and Outreach Program
Phone: 202.682.2220

2017 Distinguished Lecturers View the 2017 flyer

  • Dr. Stephen McNutt

    School of Geosciences,
    University of South Florida,
    Tampa, Florida

    Shaking and Baking: Using Seismology to Study Volcanoes

    Curriculum Vitae

    Stephen (Steve) R. McNutt is a volcano seismologist who worked half time for the Alaska Volcano Observatory from 1991-2012. He currently coordinates volcano seismology research for the School of Geosciences at the University of South Florida. His research interests include studies of source and propagation effects for volcanic tremor, low-frequency events, and explosion earthquakes; volcanic hazards assessments in Alaska, California, and Central America; the mechanical behavior of volcanoes including periodicity of eruptions; the effects of earth tides, sea level variations, and tectonic stresses on triggering eruptive activity; volcanic infrasound; and volcanic lightning. From July 1999 to July 2007 he served as Secretary General for the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior. He has served on several committees for the National Academy of Sciences, including the US National Committee for International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, the US National Committee for the Pacific Science Association, and the standing Committee on Seismology and Geodynamics. He received his B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1977, his M.A. from Columbia University in 1982, and his Ph.D. in volcanology from Columbia University in 1985.

    Seismology is used to study volcanoes in several ways. Seismic tomography, similar to medical tomography, is used to probe beneath volcanoes for their velocity and attenuation structure. This reveals the size, shape and location of bodies of molten rock underground, such as magma chambers and conduits. Models have become more detailed over the years as techniques and data have improved.

    One result of such studies is a model of the structure of the volcano.  The model then provides a conceptual pathway to interpret the seismic activity that occurs prior to eruptions. A common pattern is an increase first in volcano-tectonic earthquakes caused by increasing pressure in the magma chamber communicated to faults in the rocks nearby. This is followed by low-frequency earthquakes, which are likely related to fluid processes involving magma or water and gases. Third, a continuous signal known as volcanic tremor occurs when magma reaches shallow levels near the vent.  Explosions and strong eruption tremor are associated with the eruption. Deep earthquakes sometimes occur as stresses readjust after the removal of magma. Such patterns, together with understanding of physics, have enabled successful forecasts of eruptions over a range of sizes and types.

    The strength and character of some eruption seismic signals also provides clues to make near-real time assessments of eruptions while they are in progress. For example, the strength of eruption tremor is proportional to the height of the ash column. Lava fountaining from fissures makes stronger tremor than fountaining of the same height from cylindrical conduits. Magma with more gases makes stronger seismic signals and more fine ash, which can influence the amount of volcanic lightning!

    These are the types of questions that Professor McNutt will explore as he discusses how the movement of magma causes volcano shaking and baking.

  • Dr. John Vidale

    Professor and Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center
    Department of Earth Sciences,
    University of Southern California,
    Los Angeles, California

    A Tale of Three Pacific Northwest Temblors: One Big, One Deep and One Direct Hit

    Curriculum Vitae

    John Vidale is a Professor at the University of Southern California and Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC). He completed his undergraduate studies at Yale University and earned his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. Before returning to southern California in summer 2017, Vidale spent more than a decade as a Professor at the University of Washington, Director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, and the Washington State Seismologist. Prior to that, he worked at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the US Geological Survey, and taught for a decade at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While at UCLA, Vidale was Director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. His honors include the American Geophysical Union's Macelwane Medal (1994) and being named American Geophysical Union's Gutenberg lecturer in 2009. The College of the Environment at the University of Washington named Vidale the 2011 Researcher of the Year. Vidale’s research focuses on earthquakes, volcanoes, Earth structure, and the hazards of strong shaking. 

    Sudden mayhem. Tremendous impact. Unpredictable disruption. Is it any wonder earthquakes reserve a dark corner in our nightmares?

    The Pacific Northwest is vulnerable to several shades of shakes:

    • giant coastal quakes,
    • isolated, miles-deep pops, and
    • rips that could tear Seattle’s downtown apart.

    The University of Washington’s M9 Project, led for several years by John Vidale, is making the repercussions of each type of quake clearer—and both less and more frightening. Vidale will share the latest research and prognoses, and offer insights on implementing early warning technologies in the Pacific Northwest, so we can gain a few seconds or even minutes before suffering the strongest shaking.

2017 Lecture Series Schedule

Date Speaker Topic Venue
January 27, 2017 7:00PM Dr. John Vidale A Tale of Three Pacific Northwest Temblors: One Big, One Deep and One Direct Hit Southwestern Oregon Community College
July 13, 2017 7:00PM Dr. Stephen McNutt Shaking and Baking: Using Seismology to Study Volcanoes North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
July 26, 2017 8:00PM Dr. John Vidale A Tale of Three Pacific Northwest Temblors: One Big, One Deep and One Direct Hit Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Empirical Theater
October 21, 2017 7:00PM Dr. Stephen McNutt Shaking and Baking: Using Seismology to Study Volcanoes Southwestern Oregon Community College
November 08, 2017 7:00PM Dr. John Vidale A Tale of Three Pacific Northwest Temblors: One Big, One Deep and One Direct Hit American Museum of Natural History
November 29, 2017 7:30PM Dr. John Vidale A Tale of Three Pacific Northwest Temblors: One Big, One Deep and One Direct Hit Town Hall Seattle, Phinney Neighborhood Association

Distinguished Lectureship Archive 2003 - 2016

Year Speaker Topic
2016 Dr. Justin Rubinstein Yes, Humans Really Are Causing Earthquakes
2016 Dr. Caroline Beghein From Plate Tectonics to Deep Earth Dynamics: A Seismological Journey Inside the Earth
2015 Dr. Thorne Lay A Global Surge of Great Earthquakes and What We are Learning From Them
2015 Dr. Doug Wiens Fire and Ice: Volcanoes, Earth Structure, and the Evolution of the Antarctic Ice Sheet
2014 Dr. Meredith Nettles Glacial Earthquakes: Using Seismic and GPS Observations to Map Changes in Glaciers and Ice Sheets Worldwide
2014 Dr. Jean-Paul Ampuero Earth's Cocktail Party: Deciphering the Physics of Earthquakes With Networks of Seismic Arrays
2013 Dr. Lara Wagner Imaging the Ancient Margin: How the Southeastern United States Was Built (And Why You Should Care)
2013 Dr. Gavin Hayes Mitigating Disasters: Earthquake Response in the 21st Century
2012 Dr. Miaki Ishii Dissecting Giant Earthquakes: Things We Didn't Know
2012 Dr. Gregory Beroza The Tortoise and the Hare: Slow vs Fast Earthquakes
2011 Dr. Wayne D. Pennington Preparing for the Future: Scientific and Humanitarian Lessons from the Haiti and Japan earthquakes
2011 Dr. Beatrice Magnani The New Madrid Earthquakes Two Hundred Years Later: What Have We Learned About Earthquakes at the Center of Tectonic Plates?
2010 Dr. Brian Stump Forensic Seismology and Nucler Testing: The Detective Work of Seismologists
2010 Dr. Stephen Malone Predicting Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions: What Can and Can't Now Be Done
2009 Dr. Aaron A. Velasco Can a Large Earthquake in Another Country Cause One in Your Backyard?
2009 Dr. Richard C. Aster Taking Earth's Pulse and Temperature Using Seismology: Roaring Oceans and Singing Icebergs
2008 Dr. Cliff Frohlich Deep Earthquakes and the Secret of Seismology
2008 Dr. Uri ten Brink Peace and Science in the Middle East
2007 Dr. Anne Sheehan Seeing Beneath Mt. Everest: Probing a Breeding Ground of Destructive Earthquakes
2007 Dr. Brian Atwater The Orphan Tsunami of 1700 - A Trans-Pacific Detective Story
2006 Dr. Mary Lou Zoback The 1906 Earthquake - Lessons Learned, Lessons Forgotten, and Future Directions
2006 Dr. Ed Garnero Vibrations From the Deep: Deciphering the Birth and Death of the Earth's Surface
2006 Dr. Seth Stein Giant Earthquakes: Why, Where, When, and What We Can Do
2005 Dr. Michael Wysession Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and a Modern Journey to the Center of the Earth
2005 Dr. Susan Hough The Very Long Reach of Very Large Earthquakes
2004 Dr. David E. James Revealing the Mysteries of the Earth's Deep Interior: Plates, Plumes, and the Birth of Modern Seismology
2004  David Wald Rapid Earthquake Information: Citizen Science and New Tools for Emergency Response
2003 Dr. Roger Bilham Death and Construction: Earthquakes on an Urban Planet
2003 Dr. Walter Mooney The Discovery of the Earth: The Quest to Understand the Interior of our Planet