Wiens specializes in seismology and geophysics and has done extensive research on large deep earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean. He also is researching the seismology of Antarctica. He has taught courses on earth forces, seismology, environmental geophysics and geodynamics. Through his research on the melting of ice sheets and the ensuing sea-level rise, Wiens is uniquely positioned to talk about climate change.
Douglas Wiens was installed as the Robert S. Brookings Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences at a ceremony held Feb. 21 in Holmes Lounge at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the second faculty member to hold this professorship, which was established in 2006.
Scientists were able to deploy ruggidized seismometers that could withstand intense cold in Antarctica only recently. A line of seismometers strung across the West Antarctic Rift Valley and the Marie Byrd Land have given geologists their first good look at the mantle beneath the ice and rocks, revealing areas of hot rock that might affect the behavior of the overlying ice sheet.
In March 2010, the ice sheets in Antarctica vibrated a bit more than usual as a surface wave from an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile 3,000 kilometers away passed through the ice. Powerful earthquakes were known to trigger secondary quakes along faults in land; this was the first observation of triggered quakes in the ice. Washington University in St. Louis seismologist Doug Wiens says the finding is one of several discoveries made possible by POLENET, an array of seismic stations that reaches for the first time into the interior of Antarctica.
Seismologists have just returned from a cruise in the Western Pacific to lay the instruments for a seismic survey that will follow the water chemically bound to or trapped in the down-diving Pacific Plate at the Mariana trench, the deep trench to which Avatar director James Cameron is poised to plunge.
In the weeks following the earthquake, two geologists at Washington University in St. Louis — Doug Wiens, PhD, professor and chair of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, and Michael Wysession, PhD, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences — were frequently interviewed by journalists seeking to understand a catastrophe that seemed at times beyond understanding. What did the two scientists think about the quake? What was expected and what surprised them?