Seismology Geeks Have a Big Ally in the Moore Foundation

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is an important support of the University of California's School of Earth & Marine Science Japan Trench Fast Drilling Project (JFAST). (See Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation: Grants for Science Research).

JFAST is the world's "first ever underwater earthquake 'observatory.'" They drilled at the site of the "Tohoku megathrust earthquake," which occurred in March of 2011 and produced the tsunami that devastated Japan.

Allegedly, the fault line provides a unique and unprecedented opportunity for seismographic researchers to collect data that can help them predict future quakes. If successful, Nature.com says the information could potentially "solve a decades-old mystery about the part that friction plays in such an event." It may help scientists gain insight into why some seismic events and fault lines cause tsunamis while others do not.

The Chikyu, the ship responsible for the expedition, plunged a drill bit through about 7,000 meters of seawater and then an additional 855 meters into the crust of the earth. The most recent report on the project, posted on UC Santa Cruz's site in mid-July, said the drilling was successful despite the "many engineering challenges" that accompany an endeavor such as this one.

The grant to JFAST is only the most recent investment by the foundation in seismographic research and earthquake prediction projects. In November of last year, they divided $6 million between three west-coast universities (UC Berkeley, Caltech, and University of Washington at Seattle) to design a prototype for an earthquake early warning system called Shakealert.

Cyndi Atherton, a science programs director at the foundation, says the Shakealert prototype system "has the potential to save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in the event of an earthquake." The goal of the enormous inter-university and government collaboration is to one day provide a unified system, spanning the entire west coast, which provides consistent and accurate warnings and can get those warnings to those in harm's way quickly enough for them to take appropriate action.

As indicated on the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grants page, their philanthropic attention to be serially monogamous. Although earthquake prediction is new on their list of concerns, they will probably continue throwing money at it for years to come. (Read Chief Program Officer Vicki Chandler's IP profile).