Robert Dziak uses a U.S. Navy hydrophone to listen to seafloor earthquakes off the Pacific Northwest coast.

Bob Dziak is working on listening to earthquakes
Bob Dziak is working on listening to earthquakes

Robert Dziak has seen–or rather heard–thousands of earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean off the Northwest coast during the past several years.

Dziak and other scientists are using U.S. Navy hydrophones to listen to the sounds of seafloor earthquakes and other phenomena from their laboratories. Many of the earthquakes aren’t even detectable by land-based devices.

Dziak, who has a dual appointment with OSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is stationed at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, says the hydrophones are providing scientists with critical information.

“It is the only real-time hydrophone system in the world–at least for civilians,” says Dziak. “It allows us to listen to the earthquakes as they occur, and when something unusual happens we can send out a group of scientists to study events as they unfold.”

Discover Magazine, in its top 100 science articles, recognized Dziak and five other Northwest researchers for documenting for the first time tectonic plate movement sucking water into the porous mix of rock and sediment beneath the ocean. The discovery was reported in the July 15 issue of the journal Nature.

“Just when you think you’re beginning to understand how the process works, there’s a new twist,” Dziak says. “There was an episode of seafloor spreading on a portion of the Juan de Fuca Ridge that was covered with about a hundred meters of sediment, and what usually happens in that case is that lava erupts onto the ocean floor and hot fluid is expelled into the water.

“In this case, though, it actually drew water down into the subsurface, which is something scientists have never before observed.” Dziak’s research also was honored in 2000 when he was awarded a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award, one of only 60 granted that year in the nation.

News release on use of hydrophones

Hatfield Marine Science Center website

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