IRIS/SSA Distinguished Lectureship

For more than 15 years, the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and the Seismological Society of America are pleased to offer fascinating non-technical presentations on earthquake science topics to general audiences across the US. The IRIS/SSSA Distinguished Lectureship Program teams with your established public speaker series or program, including radio and TV shows, to coordinate scheduling and logistics.

Each speaker is an expert in his/her specific research area and is skilled in effectively communicating new and exciting findings to the public. Whether virtual or in-person, our speakers are available to share his/her expertise in a variety of delivery modes such as panel discussions, conversations/interviews, storytelling, or traditional talks with Q&A, and will tailor his/her presentation to your audience and event. When in-person events safely resume at public venues, IRIS and SSA will cover the speaker’s travel and lodging costs.

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

2021 Distinguished Lecturers View the 2021 flyer

  • Dr. Ben Holtzman

    Research Professor
    Division of Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics,
    Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University,
    Palisades, New York

    Seismology with your Ears: Listening to Patterns in Tectonic, Volcanic and Human-induced Earthquakes

    Curriculum Vitae

    Ben Holtzman is a geophysicist at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York. He studies the mechanical behavior of rocks applied to problems such as how magma migrates through the planet’s interior, how seismic waves propagate, and how earthquakes occur. He also works on “deep geothermal heat mining” – finding new ways to access the Earth’s internal heat to generate electricity without producing greenhouse gases. Ben is the founder of the Seismic Sound Lab (, developed the SeismoDome program at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, and is Scientist-in-Residence at the Computer Music Center at Columbia University. He studied Geology as an undergraduate at Brown University, received his Ph.D. in Geophysics at the University of Minnesota, and has worked at Lamont since 2004.

    Every earthquake emits seismic waves that spread from the ruptured part of a fault. We use these waves to locate and study the earthquake, and also to build an image of the Earth’s interior. Over time, we accumulate “catalogs” of past earthquakes. Listening to seismic data by “speeding up” the waves to shifting them into our audible range, a process called sonification, can help us perceive patterns in data that could otherwise be missed. In this presentation, I will weave together many short movies – animations with sonified seismic waves – to demonstrate the rich and complex patterns of natural tectonic and volcanic earthquakes and then contrast them to patterns of human-induced earthquakes. California earthquakes convey a sense of the nearly constant, but random, seismic activity of an active tectonic fault. Earthquakes associated with volcanic eruptions have a very different variety of sounds and patterns. We will compare the incredible sequence of earthquakes in Kīlauea, Hawai‘i during its 2018 eruption and contrast these with other eruptions. Finally, we will look at human-induced earthquakes associated with energy production. Listening to the differences between human-induced and tectonic earthquakes raises many important societal questions. In Oklahoma, a dramatic rise in earthquake occurrences were caused by injection of wastewater from shale gas extraction. In contrast, the extraction of geothermal energy, a CO2-free resource, also produces earthquakes but with minimal risk of groundwater contamination. All energy production comes with costs and risks to society, but how do we define and focus our concerns on the most critical ones? De-mystifying earthquake patterns through sonification can help in that direction.

  • Dr. Guoqing Lin

    Department of Marine Geosciences,
    University of Miami,
    Coral Gables, Florida

    The 2018 Kīlauea Volcano Eruption: Expected or a Surprise and What Have We Learned?

    Curriculum Vitae

    Guoqing Lin is a Professor at the University of Miami. Her science portfolio encompasses themes from tectonic and subduction zone earthquakes, to volcano seismology and induced seismicity. Her research interests include high-precision earthquake relocation, seismic imaging, stress fields near faults, and structural properties at depth where earthquakes originate. She received her B.S. from Peking University, China, and Ph.D. degree from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Prior to her current position, she was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. View Guoqing’s website.

    Kīlauea volcano in Hawai‘i is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) operates an extensive seismic network to monitor and investigate hazards from active volcanoes and earthquakes on the Island of Hawai‘i. Seismic investigations have considerable potential for addressing key issues regarding the evolution of volcanic and tectonic activity in Hawai‘i. Specifically, what is the relationship between crustal stress changes and past and future seismic and volcanic events? To what extent are stress changes explained by known events and how predictive are they of future events? In 2018, Kīlauea experienced its largest Lower East Rift Zone eruption and caldera collapse in the past 200 years. This activity provided an unprecedented opportunity for seismologists to investigate the interactions between seismic and magmatic processes and for the general community to learn how seismologists use earthquake data to monitor volcanoes. In this talk, I will present the seismic activity in Kīlauea based on the 33 years of HVO records and focus on the changes in earthquake distribution, seismic wave speeds, and stress field before and after the 2018 eruption. I will also review the geological setting and volcanic activity of Kīlauea volcano along with other volcanoes on the Big Island.

  • Dr. William Wilcock

    School of Oceanography,
    University of Washington,
    Seattle, Washington

    Whale Seismology

    Curriculum Vitae

    William Wilcock is the Jerome M. Paros Endowed Chair in Sensor Networks in the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington.  His research interests include using geophysical techniques to understand seafloor volcanoes and hydrothermal systems, developing new tools for seafloor geodesy at subduction zones, exploiting cabled seafloor observatories for scientific studies and earthquake and tsunami early warning, and studying baleen whales using opportunistic recordings by seafloor seismometers.  He holds a B.A. in Earth Sciences from Cambridge University, an M.Sc. in Exploration Geophysics from Imperial College, a Ph.D. in Marine Geology and Geophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

    Large whales are amongst the most captivating animals on Earth, but they are challenging to study because they are too big to hold in tanks, they spend most of their time underwater, and individuals can range over thousands of miles. Recording their vocalizations is one of only a handful of tools available to scientists, but such data can be expensive to obtain, particularly in the deep ocean. The two largest whale species, blue and fin whales, create very loud repetitive sounds at frequencies of about 20 Hz that overlap those of earthquakes, and they are commonly recorded by the networks of seafloor seismometers deployed for geophysical studies. Whale recordings on seafloor seismometers are sometimes viewed as a bothersome source of noise that obscures seismic signals, but beginning with some pioneering work in the 1990s, a small but growing community of marine seismologists are taking advantage of earthquake monitoring experiments in the oceans to study blue and fin whales. Many of the seismological techniques to locate earthquakes and determine their size and frequency characteristics can be adapted to whales. In this talk, I will describe the origin of my own interest in whale seismology and discuss ongoing efforts to exploit extensive seismic data sets in the northeast Pacific and elsewhere for whale seismology.

2021 Lecture Series Schedule

Date Speaker Topic Venue
Jan 26 2021, 7:00 PM Dr. William Wilcock Whale Seismology Southwestern Oregon Community College Virtual Event
Mar 25 2021, 7:00 PM Dr. William Wilcock Whale Seismology North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Virtual Event
May 11 2021, 3:00 PM Dr. Guoqing Lin The 2018 Kīlauea Volcano Eruption: Expected or a Surprise and What Have We Learned? Southwestern Oregon Community College Virtual Event
Jun 08 2021, 6:30 PM Dr. William Wilcock Whale Seismology Houston Museum of Natural Science Virtual Event

Distinguished Lectureship Archive 2003 - 2020

Year Speaker Topic
2020 Dr. Sarah Minson “Imminent Shaking": What Kind of Earthquake Warning is Possible?
2020 Dr. Ross S. Stein How the Gold Rush and the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Enabled Us to Divine our Seismic Future
2019 Dr. Susan Hough What Past Earthquakes Tell Us About Future Earthquake Hazard: Facts & Fake Facts
2019 Dr. Arthur Rodgers Forecasting Ground Shaking from Earthquakes Using Supercomputers
2018 Dr. Katie Keranen Induced Earthquakes: Experimenting Unintentionally
2018 Dr. Frederik Simons Through the Ocean to the Mantle: Under the Seas with a Fleet of Floating Seismic Robots
2017 Dr. John Vidale A Tale of Three Pacific Northwest Temblors: One Big, One Deep and One Direct Hit
2017 Dr. Stephen McNutt Shaking and Baking: Using Seismology to Study Volcanoes
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