Center for Earthquake Research and Information

Mission Statement

  • To conduct research on the causes and consequences of earthquakes.
  • To provide seismic safety and mitigation information for citizens and government units.

Goals and Objectives

  • Build the earthquake research program at The University of Memphis to a level of international scope and reputation.
  • Establish an earthquake engineering capability.
  • Establish a regional earthquake hazard and mitigation resource center.
  • Establish a geophysics Ph.D. program in The University of Memphis' Department of Geological Sciences.

  • Introduction

    The Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI) assesses earthquake hazards of the New Madrid seismic zone and the Southern Appalachian seismic zone, two of the most active earthquake regions of the eastern United States. As a Center of Excellence since 1984, CERI has grown to national and international significance in earthquake studies.


    CERI is the successor of the Tennessee Earthquake Information Center (TEIC), which was chartered in 1977 by the Tennessee Legislature. Present space totals 21,000 square feet, including a CERI-staffed Earth Science Library.

    As a Center of Excellence, CERI's seismograph networks grew to 30 stations in seven states, providing data on regional earthquakes which clearly delineated the active New Madrid seismic zone and the less active, and poorly understood, Southern Appalachian seismic zone. However, in 1992, a new federal policy sharply reduced funding for re- gional seismograph networks, but offered state-of-the art seismograph equipment for a smaller number of regional stations. CERI's seismograph stations decreased as a result; data from only six seismograph stations are currently being received. CERI is redesigning the network with improved technology to produce lower operating costs and is seeking resources to install a new 100-station New Madrid network during the next two years.

    Major Programs

    CERI has developed an effective portable seismograph network technology, the Portable Array for Numerical Data Acquisition (PANDA:. This technology has been used for earthquake studies in central Arkansas, the Andes, the New Madrid Seismic Zone, Ha- wan, Taiwan and New Zealand. In 1991-1993, this technology detected abundant, small earthquakes with very high 3-D spatial resolution in the most active part of the New Madrid seismic zone and revealed a complex pattern of active faults in the source zone of the great earthquakes of 1811-12. PANDA projects overseas are building fruitful research partnerships with foreign institutions in several important earthquake-prone regions.
    This map shows earthquakes of the New Madrid and Southern Appalachian seismic zones from 1974 through 1994.
    CERI conducts many geophysical and geologic field investigations of deep and shallow deformation in the New Madrid seismic zone. Seismic reflection profiling reveals fault movements at depths of hundreds to thousands of feet. At the surface, 'sand blows' of the 1811-1812 earthquakes have long been recognized. By blending techniques from geol- ogy, archaeology and soil science, studies in pits and trenches have identified myriad fractures through which liquefied sands flowed to the surface during 1811-1812 and several earlier episodes of strong earthquake shaking. The evolving multi-disciplinary process is unraveling the earthquake history of the region, putting present earthquake hazards in clearer perspective.

    CERI is taking direct measurements of contemporary New Madrid seismic zone deforma- tion by reference to signals from Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. GPS capa- bility for worldwide geodetic measurements is also being exploited by CERI with other institutions to measure mountain-building movements in the Andes Mountains.

    CERI's engineering faculty and their students are deeply involved in assessing earth- quake hazards and the potential for earthquake damage to lifelines and critical structures throughout western Tennessee and northeastern Arkansas. Earthquake hazards of all university campus buildings have been evaluated. A soil testing lab and a large database on engineering properties of Mid-South soils compiled at CERI are used in many spon- sored projects and serves the information needs of private engineering firms in the region.

    CERI is well known for its thorough, long-term, integrated study of earthquakes in relatively stable continental areas. The New Madrid earthquakes, the 1886 Charleston, S.C. earthquake and the disastrous Latur, India earthquake of Sept. 29, 1993, are ex- amples of earthquakes not explained by the modern theory of the earth's drifting crustal plates. They represent a rather poorly understood, but growing, threat of rare, destructive events in many countries not known for repeated historic earthquake disasters. Learning more about this phenomenon should affect planning practices for critical facilities in eastern North America and other large areas of the world.

    A full-time Resource Center director at CERI supplies information and responds to inquiries from teachers, government agencies, professional organizations, churches, schools, civic groups and the public. CERI is the main source of technical information on earthquakes and earthquake hazards for emergency management organizations, utilities, local and national news media, and the insurance and construction industries. CERI also provides a Weekly Earthquake Summary to 58 recipients by fax, mail and email.

    Major Accomplishments

    Since 1991, CERI's sponsored research awards have approximately equaled its Center of Excellence budgets. Through June 1995, over 250 scientific/technical contributions by CERI authors have been published in refereed journals. Through June 1994, 37 master's degrees in geophysics, 7 in earthquake engineering and one doctorate in earthquake engineering had been awarded to CERI students. Twenty-four students are currently enrolled in the master's programs and six in the geophysics doctoral program which began in 1990. Two of the latter are graduating in 1995.


    CERI has added much to knowledge and awareness of earthquakes and earthquake hazards of the New Madrid seismic zone. While CERI's established program is producing new information for mitigating earthquake hazards, it is also providing sound graduate training in earth and engineering sciences to an international community of students.