Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hip! Hip! USArray

Probably the most ambitious seismological project ever conducted is taking place in the heartland of America. Its name is USArray and its aim is to run what amounts to an ultrasound scan over the 48 contiguous states of the US. Through the seismic shudders and murmurs that rack Earth's innards, it will build up an unprecedented 3D picture of what lies beneath North America.

It is a mammoth undertaking, during which USArray's scanner - a set of 400 transportable seismometers - will sweep all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Having started off in California in 2004, it is now just east of the Rockies, covering a north-south swathe stretching from Montana's border with Canada down past El Paso on the Texas-Mexico border. By 2013, it should have reached the north-east coast, and its mission end.

Though not yet at the halfway stage, the project is already bringing the rocky underbelly of the US into unprecedented focus. Geologists are using this rich source of information to gain new understanding of the continent's tumultuous past - and what its future holds.

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