PASSCAL additon

"Tech is the international standard for portable seismic research instruments."

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 2, 2008 – Dr. Daniel H. López, president of New Mexico Tech in Socorro, authorized the expansion of the on-campus building that houses the IRIS PASSCAL Instrument Center and the EarthScope Array Operations Facility. The 1,300 square-foot addition, scheduled for completion in spring 2009, will primarily provide laboratory and office space for PASSCAL’s recently expanded Polar Program activities supported primarily by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs.

(For larger image, click on image to the right.)

Instrument Center Director Bruce Beaudoin said PASSCAL has supported polar research since 1989.

“Only recently we secured funding from the Office of Polar Programs to develop the equipment and strategies to support seismology in these extreme environments,” Beaudoin said.

Tim Parker, Polar Program Manager for IRIS PASSCAL, spearheaded the efforts.

“The success of these efforts is largely due to Tim Parker’s tenacity and vision,” Beaudoin said. “Our current station designs are truly Tim’s vision of what would work.”

The extreme environments found in Antarctica, Greenland, Alaska, and other polar locales require a level of support that is more intense and demanding than other environments, Beaudoin said. The Instrument Center will support efforts to develop successful cold station deployment strategies, develop and test seismic equipment rated for -55°C, establish a pool of instruments for use in cold environments, and create a repository for cold station techniques and test data for seismologists and others in the polar sciences community.

The PASSCAL Instrument Center at New Mexico Tech supports state-of-the-art, low-power, portable seismic instrumentation for investigator-driven experiments worldwide. With more than 3,500 instruments, the Center is the largest “lending library” of seismometers in the nation. The university in Socorro is home to the national seismology instrument center, with more than $20 million of top-of-the-line “broadband” seismic sensors and another $50 million of other seismic equipment, all funded by the National Science Foundation.

The PASSCAL facility currently has about 1,100 broadband, intermediate period, short period, and high frequency sensors, more than 800 data acquisition systems, and nearly 1,000 single channel active source “Texan” instruments, as well as communications systems and various ancillary equipment.

“We are the international standard for portable seismic research instruments,” said Dr. Rick Aster, the principal investigator for IRIS PASSCAL at New Mexico Tech and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science. “Other nations, like China, are trying to catch up, but we manage, by far, the world’s largest pool of this type of state-of-the-art research instrument.”

The co-located USArray Operations Facility at the Instrument Center supports EarthScope's 400-station Transportable Array, as well as the complementary USArray Flexible Array of 326 broadband, 120 short-period, and 1,700 active source instruments that are available for focused EarthScope investigations.

“IRIS has really democratized seismology,” Aster said. “Now every university doesn’t have to put together its own lab. The instruments are available on loan and all the data is ultimately available to all researchers through the internet.”

Seismologists and other geo-scientists use PASSCAL’s instruments for a wide variety of Earth science research – from the esoteric disciplines, like mapping the Earth’s core, to the societally important studies such as studying hazardous earthquake zones and listening for signs of nuclear bomb tests or other human-caused signals.

The facility has 32 full-time employees and more than 20,000 square feet under roof. In addition to hardware support, PASSCAL staff provides instrument design, maintenance, field logistics, software development, data archiving, and training to support seismic research. Since it was established more than 20 years ago, PASSCAL has supported more than 500 experiments that have led to a host of new discoveries about the Earth.

– NMT –