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Posted 08.16.06


China to Invest Millions in Earthquake Study

MU scientist calls it a golden opportunity for international collaboration

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Poorly understood intraplate earthquakes will soon be the focus of more intense scientific attention. The Chinese government is expected to soon announce a number of heavily funded research initiatives aimed at studying these earthquakes, which affect north China and the American Midwest. U.S. scientists, such as Mian Liu at the University of Missouri-Columbia, call it an exciting opportunity for international collaboration and discovery.

Unlike the more common interplate earthquakes, which happen at the boundaries of tectonic plates - large broken pieces that make up Earth's outer shell - intraplate earthquakes happen in the middle of presumably stable tectonic plates.

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"We don't currently understand these intraplate earthquakes as well as we understand interplate earthquakes," said Liu, professor of geological sciences in MU's College of Arts and Science. "The new Chinese initiatives have huge scientific and societal implications. In the past 700 years, more than 30 large earthquakes have struck north China, which is now the major political and economic center of China with a huge population. What we learn in north China also will help us to better understand earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S."

Liu is already working with Chinese scientists to study the north China region, but he expects these new initiatives to provide more opportunities for discovery and international collaboration. Liu and Eric Sandvol, an associate professor of geological sciences at MU, have been collaborating with two top Chinese universities in a pilot study of north China earthquakes. Liu also has worked with the International Professionals for the Advancement of Chinese Earth Sciences, a group of overseas earth scientists, to plan a major research initiative aimed at north China geology and earthquakes. Called the Greater North China Initiative, the project is now a top priority in the strategic plan of the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC). It will be complemented by a new research program sponsored by the Chinese government with funding of $20 million over five years and the supply of 800 portable broadband seismometers, 600 of them newly acquired.

"This is a turning point." Liu said. "In the past, the U.S. has funded most of the research and field instrument costs for collaborative research in China. These new initiatives may reverse the roles. This is a golden opportunity for U.S. and international scientists."

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Tangshan earthquake, the deadliest modern earthquake that killed 244,000 people on July 28, 1976, and nearly wiped out the industrial city of Tangshan, about 200 miles southeast of Beijing. Intraplate earthquakes in the U.S. have not been as frequent or devastating but have been severe. In 1811 and 1812, a series of large earthquakes measuring magnitude above 7 occurred on the New Madrid faults in southeastern Missouri, and the region remains seismically active today.



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