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News Release 98-072

New Instrument "Lending Library" Will Help Researchers See What's Shaking

October 28, 1998

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

An innovative new instrument center to support scientists in their efforts to study earthquakes and other seismic data will be dedicated today at New Mexico Tech in Socorro, New Mexico.

The new center, part of Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL) is a repository of research tools for seismologists, managed under the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) program supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Center director Marcos Alvarez will operate the new facility in association with New Mexico Tech geophysicists Rick Aster and Harold Tobin.

The new center will provide a centralized location for researchers to access a variety of portable seismic instruments. "Our principal role is as a 'lending library' for seismic instruments," said Aster. "Researchers can devote more of their limited resources to research, and not to maintaining costly equipment that they need but do not use routinely."

In addition to the consortium's seismic research efforts, IRIS fosters K-12 and college level educational programs that highlight the role of seismology and the earth sciences in society. This role is emphasized through the consortium's work as an advocate for earthquake education and hazard mitigation. Since seismologists can also track the seismic anomalies that nuclear explosions produce, IRIS holds an important position as watchdog for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Since 1984, IRIS has worked to explore the Earth's interior through the collection, distribution and analysis of seismic data. Currently, more than 90 universities and institutions comprise the IRIS research consortium, which supports the research needs of earth scientists in the United States and around the world.

Currently, PASSCAL centers at Stanford University and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are phasing out their operations as equipment and operational responsibilities transfer to the New Mexico Tech facility. New Mexico Tech has constructed a 9,000-square foot building with an adjoining 20,000-square foot warehouse to house the PASSCAL instrument pool and serve as a hub of PASSCAL activities.

"A single center can more efficiently handle requests for instruments and their distribution," said Aster. "We estimate that we can save IRIS up to $800,000 over the next three years, yet still increase PASSCAL's capacity to service the seismology community."


Media Contacts
Greg Lester, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
Dan Weill, NSF, (703) 292-8556, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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