Mary Lou Zoback
(recorded in 2003)
Mary Lou Zoback is known for her work on the relationship between earthquakes and state of stress in the Earth's crust. From 1986 to 1992, Zoback created and led the World Stress Map project, an effort that actively involved 40 scientists from 30 different countries, with the objective of interpreting a wide variety of geologic and geophysical data on the present-day tectonic stress field. This work demonstrated that broad regions of the Earth's crust in the interior of tectonic plates are subjected to relatively uniform stresses that result from the same forces that cause plate motion. Born in Sanford, Fla., Zoback graduated with a degree in geophysics from Stanford University and stayed on to earn her doctorate in 1978. She is involved in science education in her local school districts and participates in a national program, Expanding Your Horizons, that is designed to expose and encourage girls in middle school to careers in mathematics and the sciences.
Listen to the Interview (requires free RealPlayer software):
Mary Lou Zoback talks about her early years of study at a small university in her home state of Florida where she met a professor who triggered her interest in geophysics. She then completes her studies at Stanford University. She also talks about how earthquake research was stimulated by military interests during the Cold War. (11 minutes)
Zoback explains what is known about earthquakes, how those that occur in the western United States differ from those in the East and the challenges of earthquake research and prediction. She then describes Earth Scope, an ambitious research project funded by the National Science Foundation. (11 minutes)
Zoback describes how, like the tides, Earth movements occur every day. She talks about the strong links between biology and geology, and common misconceptions about earthquakes. (11 minutes)
Zoback recounts how she made sense out of an anomaly in the Earth's magnetic field in northern Nevada by mapping the area's stress points as the focus of her master's thesis. She expanded this work to a global scale when she led the World Stress Map Project from 1986 to 1992. She also talks about the kinds of near-real-time earthquake information the general public can obtain via the Web and how they can also log reports to help researchers. (13 minutes)
Zoback explains that reasonable predictions about earthquakes can be made on 30-year time scales and that tying them to estimates about potential damage and costs would help raise the public's awareness of engineering needs. She also talks about an effort to study whether earthquakes can "jump" from fault to fault. (9 minutes)
In this last track, Zoback offers advice about balancing a career, marriage and family. She also emphasizes the importance of scientists lending their expertise to public policy discussions. (6 minutes)
Last Updated: 07-23-2004
The audio files linked above are part of the National Academy of Sciences InterViews series. Opinions and statements included in these audio files are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academy of Sciences.