In an attempt to better understand earthquakes and with the goal of one day being able to predict them, an international team of scientists and engineers headed to the heart of where earthquakes happen. The team is involved in a project called the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD). It is a massive undertaking. They drilled a mile and a half into the Earth at a test site in Parkfield, Calif., to study what happens at the epicenter of an earthquake. Parkfield is a town located along the San Andreas Fault where a number of minor earthquakes occur each year.
“There’s roughly a dozen major plates that the Earth’s surface is broken up into and this is one of the first times we’ve ever been able to drill into one of those boundaries between the tectonic plates,” says geologist Chris Marone, a professor at Pennsylvania State University. “We know very little of what’s within these fault zones.”
Marone and his colleagues, geologist Brett Carpenter and hydrogeologist Demian Saffer, are research collaborators. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), they took advantage of the SAFOD drilling and set to work to study those boundaries called fault zones — where plates shift, pressure builds and earthquakes happen.