started in 1980 under joint state and federal support. Preliminary prototype response plans have been completed for an industry, a county, a large city, and a small city. Elements of the prototype plan include, for example, voluntary self-help, communications, special problems of schools, law enforcement, and concerns of financial institutions. An early requirement for the project was an accurate scenario of the tectonic process, in this case the detailed effects of a major earthquake when it happened and the likely content of an earthquake prediction if it were made. These needs could be fulfilled only poorly or not at all because of the state of earthquake science. All administrative, societal, economic, and other steps to cope with the impact of active-tectonic processes hinge on understanding those processes and the rates at which they operate.


A program of fundamental research focusing especially on Quaternary tectonic geology and geomorphology, paleoseismology, neotectonics, and geodesy is recommended to better understand ongoing, active-tectonic processes. Capability should be developed to assess the potential for, or to predict, tectonic activities up to several thousand years in the future. To accomplish these goals, special attention should be given to the following research areas that constitute especially powerful techniques or gaps or areas of weakness within the complex matrix of scientific disciplines needed.

We stress strongly, however, that the priorities given here are predicated on the existence of a healthy level of fundamental research in related, broad subjects including understanding the continental lithosphere, plate tectonics, energetics of tectonic processes, seismology, and volcanism. Other National Research Council reports have already addressed many of these topics.

Research Priorities

  • Dating Techniques: The greatest need is for data and models concerning the rates of active-tectonic processes. Public-policy decisions, for example, about what levels of earth-hazard risks are acceptable, rest largely on evaluations of the rates (and the variability of rates) of processes, the frequency of events, and the prediction of when hazards might become critical. To this end, new and improved techniques of dating materials and events of Quaternary age are needed. For example, thermoluminescence, uranium trend, beryllium-10, aluminum-26, and soil development are among two dozen or more potentially useful dating techniques currently being investigated as alternatives to the more widely used techniques, including radiocarbon dating. Tandem accelerator mass spectrometry may permit several of these new techniques to become practical and may improve the usefulness of older techniques. The breadth of applicability and precision of each technique need improvement.

  • Tectonic Geomorphology: Research in tectonic geomorphology aimed at documenting rates, styles, and patterns of movements is recommended as one of the potentially most effective means of analyzing ongoing tectonic processes. Research in quantitative geomorphology is especially important.

  • Geodesy: Research using geodetic techniques should be expanded to delineate the patterns and scales of ongoing deformation. We endorse the recommendations in the 1981 report Geodetic Monitoring of Tectonic Deformation—Toward a Strategy by the Committee on Geodesy/Committee on Seismology. Techniques described in that report range from ground techniques using strain meters and laser-ranging devices to space techniques using very-long-baseline radio interferometry (VLBI) and the Global Positioning System (GPS).

  • Paleoseismology: Because major tectonic processes such as those manifested by seismicity are commonly grossly misrepresented by the historical time sample, pa-

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