The Subduction Zone Observatory takes shape

Depending on how you count, there are roughly a dozen subduction zones around the globe, regions where ocean crust is dragged down into Earth along plate boundaries, leading to large earthquakes and melting in the mantle that causes magma to burble up. Subduction zones not only pose a threat to humans, but also act as critical gears in the rock cycle, recycling crust into Earth’s interior and pumping up new volcanic rock. Scientists are now cooking up a plan for a major new research program: the Subduction Zone Observatory (SZO). Just where the SZO will be located, what instruments it will include, and what it might cost will come into focus during a National Science Foundation (NSF)–sponsored workshop next week. But many think the observatory could be NSF’s next major investment in earth science research, following the $200 million EarthScope project, which began in 2003.

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In 2015, the Chilean volcano Calbuco erupted. It is fueled by the subduction of the Nazca plate beneath South America. (Credit: Andiseño Estudio via Flickr)