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Mizzou Engineering joins international earthquake team

Mizzou Engineering is lending its expertise to an international effort to better understand earthquakes by drilling deep into and installing monitors in a fault system off Japan’s coastline.

“My engineering background will put me in a position to help interpret how fluid pressure within the rocks affects the stress and strain of the fault system.” —William J. Likos

William J. Likos, an MU civil and environmental engineering assistant professor, is joining one of four research drilling expeditions scheduled for the next year by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), a marine research organization that includes the United States, Japan, Europe, China and South Korea. Likos will help measure the role of water pressure within the fault system during an expedition slated for Nov. 11—Dec. 19.

“My engineering background will put me in a position to help interpret how fluid pressure within the rocks affects the stress and strain of the fault system,” Likos said.

Likos is among 29 American scientists joining the IODP expeditions, out of 68 who applied for positions, said Jeffrey D. Schuffert, a program official for the Joint Oceanographic Institutions in Washington, D.C. helping organize American participation. MU geology Professor Michael Underwood, who is helping coordinate the expeditions for IODP, and Mizzou graduate students Junhua Guo and Hitoshi Banno also are slated to participate in the expeditions.

Schuffert said Japan’s Center for Deep Earth Exploration—which operates the drill ship, Chikyu, being used for the expeditions—selected the expedition researchers based on expertise and geologic experience.

Chikyu’s scientific teams will drill into and sample the ocean floor where it slides under another of the Earth’s plates, in Japan’s Nankai Trough. Researchers will study the types of rocks, as well as their chemistry, temperature and pressures in the trough, which has been the source of large earthquakes, Schuffert said.

“They want to measure just about anything that can be measured,” he said. “Because it really is just a complete unknown.”

The November expedition to Japan’s Nankai Trough also will help pave the way for an expedition planned for 2008, Underwood said. Using advanced oil drilling techniques for scientific purposes for the first time, the 2008 expedition will seek to drill deeply into the sea floor where the plates contact each other and install instruments to monitor the fault, he said.

“It’s the first step of leading up to an understanding of the deeper part of the whole system,” Underwood said.