Project Details


Non-technical abstract

The Geoscience REsearch At the Cordillera Talamanca (GREAT) project will use a diverse array of geoscience methods to investigate the origins, the current state, and the hazard potential of the Cordillera Talamanca (CT) in southern Costa Rica. This region is unique in Central America because of its lack of active volcanism, its extreme (and geologically recent) high elevations, and its history of unusually distributed large earthquakes.

The project will use resources of the University of Costa Rica: The School of Geology and the civil engineering research center (Laboratorio Nacional de Materiales y Modelos Estructurales, LanammeUCR,), and also the research facilities of the national power company of Costa Rica (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, ICE).

Over the course of three years, 18 undergraduate students will participate in the project. They will collect new data on seismic wave propagation, gravity field strength, and the shape of the Earth's surface. They will merge new observations with existing data into a unified knowledge base to increase understanding of the region. They will analyze combined data sets to answer specific questions about this region, such as 'Why are Cordillera Talamanca so high?', 'Where are zones of present internal deformation?', and 'What factors control slope stability?', and use newly gained knowledge to assess landslide hazards along the Pan-American highway in the CT.

Integration of the GREAT project into the university-wide Aresty Research Assistant program will raise the visibility of Earth Sciences at Rutgers, making participation of historically underrepresented groups more likely. Assessment of the program's outcomes will be helpful in devising future efforts aimed at expanding participation of US diverse student population in natural science research.

The international collaborations forged during the project will establish institutional links between a large US public university (Rutgers) and the premier research and educational institution in Central America (University of Costa Rica).

Technical abstract

The Geoscience REsearch At the Cordillera Talamanca (GREAT) research and education project will pursue three distinct research avenues.

1. We will study the interior structure of the Cordillera Talamanca region through a combination of gravity and seismic methods. Improved constraints on the distribution of density will come from a) better gravity data; and b) the integration of additional constraints on the geometry and chemistry of Earth's crust. These constraints will be inferred from the seismic structure of the Cordillera Talamanca based on a combination of methods using body waves from local and distant earthquakes. We will use teleseismic receiver function (RF) analysis to probe the structure of the crust and the upper mantle, and will take advantage of numerous local and regional earthquakes to constrain absolute values of seismic wave speed with textbook geophysical exploration techniques such as seismic refraction and wide-angle reflection.

2. We will study the present-day deformation within the region using regional earthquake data from existing and newly deployed seismic observatories. We will work to improve the location of regional seismicity by a) including additional data, b) using more advanced tools such as double-difference location, and c) using better models of seismic velocity in the Earth.

3. We will investigate the landslide hazard potential for the Pan-American Highway within Cordillera Talamanca using remote sensing data and direct geological observations. We will use unmanned drones and land-based LiDAR to build highly detailed digital elevation models, and will combine them with microgravity surveys and background information on geology and seismic activity to develop case studies of landslide potential.

During each of 3 years of the project a six-person cohort of undergraduate students will spend 6 weeks in Costa Rica, working with mentors from research institutions in the country. Students will collect new data and perform basic data processing and analysis tasks while in Costa Rica, and will develop individualized research projects over the course of subsequent academic year, when they will be enrolled in a university-wide Aresty Research Assistantship program.

Effective start/end date1/15/1812/31/22


  • National Science Foundation: $248,412.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.