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Heiner Igel wins ERC Advanced Grant

Munich, 08/12/2013

LMU geophysicist Professor Heiner Igel has been awarded an Advanced Grant worth 2.5 million euros by the European Research Council (ERC). Igel will use the grant to develop a novel type of rotation sensor for the analysis of seismic waves. ERC Advanced Grants honor European researchers who have already made their mark in their respective fields, and are intended to enable them to undertake innovative and high-risk projects.

When an earthquake occurs, the ground surface oscillates not only back-and-forth and up-and-down, it also tilts and rotates around a vertical axis. Hence, in order to fully characterize ground movements due to seismic activity, rotational motion must also be detected and recorded. However, although instrumental detection of seismic activity has been routine for more than a century, the complete characterization of seismic waveforms remains an unsolved problem, as standard seismometers cannot detect the differential acceleration associated with rotational movements.

With the arrival of a new laser-based technology, however, this problem can now be tackled. In several earlier papers, Heiner Igel and his colleagues have shown that so-called ring lasers, optical gyroscopes which were originally developed primarily for the precise observation of slight variations in Earth’s rotation, are well suited for monitoring rotational ground motions caused by earthquakes. Indeed, Igel has pioneered the use of the ring laser in seismic studies, stimulating the development of the new field of rotational seismology. In cooperation with his long-time collaborator Professor Karl Ulrich Schreiber of the Technische Universität München (TUM), Igel will now use his ERC Advanced Grant to build the first rotation sensor to be integrated in a seismological observatory, which will enable the complete description of seismic ground motions for the first time.

The ability to monitor such rotational movement will have wide practical application in fields ranging from the physics of earthquakes to seismic tomography, geodesy, oceanography, structural engineering and even cosmology. For example, the combination of data obtained with conventional seismometers and rotation sensors will open entirely new opportunities for the tomographic reconstruction of the Earth’s interior, and enable much more precise measurements of how buildings react to rotational stresses. In addition, Igel and his colleagues expect that the new sensors will also provide insights into how the oceans themselves cause our planet to vibrate.

Professor Heiner Igel studied Geophysics at the Technical University in Karlsruhe and the University of Edinburgh (UK), and obtained his doctorate at the Université Paris in 1993. From 1994 until 1999 he held a research post at Cambridge University (UK). In 1999 he was named Professor of Seismology and Geophysics at LMU. göd

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