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Observatory History: 1950-2000


    Fr. Ahern was succeeded as Director in 1949 by Fr. Daniel Linehan, S.J., who had been associated with the observatory as a seismologist since 1934. Fr. Francis J. Donohoe, S.J., had been appointed Assistant to the Director in 1948. The observatory had been subsidized entirely by funds from Jesuit sources and income from survey work until 1947, when it became affiliated with Boston College. At that time the University formed a Department of Geophysics and offered a master's degree in this field. The department was centered at the observatory, and Fr. Linehan was appointed the first Chairman of the department.

    Fr. Linehan was a prolific writer and public speaker. In the summer of 1954, he went to the Arctic and made the first magnetic studies to determine the new location of the North Magnetic Pole. Between 1954 and 1958, he made three expeditions to Antarctica as a geophysicist with the U.S. Navy to help determine the thickness of the ice cap at the south Geographic Pole and other sites on that continent.

    In the mid-1950s, geomagnetic research was begun, and plans were made for the construction of a geomagnetic observatory at Weston. It was the only observatory of this sort in the northeastern United States, and one of three in the coterminous U.S. that continually monitored changes in the earth's magnetic field. The operation of this observatory began in 1960, and it was supported for many years by funding from the U.S. Air Force through the Air Force Cambridge Research Center.

    The research was directed toward the collection, reduction, and evaluation of geomagnetic field data and electrical field phenomena. It was also an assembly area, test station, and absolute calibration site for instruments designed for making magnetic observations in space. The principal investigators for various research projects were Fr. Linehan, Robert Somers, Fr. Devane, and Fr. Donohoe. A magnetic bulletin was published quarterly, beginning in 1961. One of the projects involved the operation of a magnetic network, which consisted of between four and six mobile stations that were operated in widely scattered locations around the United States.

    In 1958, Boston College approved the founding of an undergraduate Department of Geology, with Fr. James W. Skehan, S.J., the Assistant Director of Weston Observatory, as its first Chairman. The chairmanship of the Department of Geophysics was assigned to Fr. John F. Devane, S.J. in 1963, and in 1968 the two formerly separate but cooperating academic units were combined into the Department of Geology and Geophysics, with Fr. Skehan as Chairman.

    Weston Observatory remained a separate facility until a further consolidation in 1977, when it became an integral part of the department. Fr. Linehan retired as Director of the Observatory in 1972 to become Director Emeritus and was replaced by Prof. Dae Hyun Chung as Interim Director. Prof. Chung was replaced a year later by Fr. Skehan.

    From 1976 to 1981, Fr. Skehan brought together a group (Boston College Energy Research Center) to study the energy and environmental issues that were beginning to emerge at that time. One project begun at that time was a study of the fuel resources of New England, with a concentration on the coal resources of the Narragansett Basin of southeastern New England. The New England Consortium on Environmental Protection, representing 14 area colleges and universities, was headquartered at Weston Observatory during these years.

    On November 22, 1961, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey established at Weston one of the first of the 123 stations of the World Wide Standardized Seismic Network (WWSSN). The six seismometers installed at that time continue in operation today. In 1988, they were converted from galvanometer-based photographic recording to thermal-stylus recording.

    Under a contract with the Advanced Research Projects Administration, the New England Seismic Network (NESN) was established by Weston Observatory in 1962 and became an integral part of the Northeastern Seismic Network, a cooperative network of seismic stations operated by various groups throughout northeastern North America. It began with the installation of four 3-component seismic stations in northern New England. Frs. Linehan, David Clark, S.J., and Roy Drake, S.J., were instrumental in getting this network started. In 1964, Dr. F. Thomas Turcotte was hired to serve as principal investigator for the project. Transmission of seismic data was by telephone data lines to the Observatory, where recordings were made and interpreted.

    The original funding lasted for five years, after which the network was cut back to one remote station in New Hampshire. The network was revitalized in 1975 by funding from the Atomic Energy Commission (later NRC) and the U.S. Geological Survey until it consisted of more than30  stations, with several sub-networks, throughout New England in the early 1980s. Dr. Edward F. Chiburis joined the department in 1977 as Associate Professor and was appointed Assistant Director of the Observatory and Principal Investigator of this project. Dr. Chiburis left the Observatory in 1980 to take a position in industry. The vacancy was filled for a few months by Fr. James P. McCaffrey, S.J., who had become Assistant to the Director a year earlier upon the death of Fr. Donohoe. When Dr. John Ebel joined the department later that year, he assumed the role of Principal Investigator of the regional seismic network research project and Assistant Director of Weston Observatory. Dr. Alan Kafka joined the seismology faculty in 1983. In the late 1980s, the seismology staff was involved in research related to the monitoring of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Joint Verification Experiment.

    Today, the New England Seismic Network is operated by Weston Observatory in cooperation with the Earth Resources Laboratory at MIT. Quarterly bulletins of seismic activity recorded by this network have been published, as have a catalog and map of the earthquakes in the northeastern U.S. from the late 17th century to present. Many graduates have worked as Dr. Ebel's assistants over the years, including Peter Raica, John Foley, and Sue D'Annolfo. John Peterson and Ned Johnson have served as the electronics engineers; beginning in 1984, they designed and built a digital recording system to replace the develocorders and helicorders.

    Fr. McCaffrey retired as Assistant to the Director in 1997, and Fr. W. Richard Ott, S.J. came to Weston Observatory to fill that position. In the 1990s, because of a significant reduction in seismic external network funding, the number of stations of the network was reduced, but the remaining stations were upgraded with Guralp broadband seismometers and new software for analyzing data that has been acquired. All of the Weston Observatory stations are PC-based, with onsite recording, three-component broadband sensors, and dial-up telephone telemetry or direct internet links to the central station.

    Also in this decade, new initiatives were begun in the field of Geoscience Information Systems. A geographic information center is housed at the Observatory and is used as a research tool to assist investigations in seismic hazard, geotechnical engineering, geology, and environmental research. A research program is being developed in geotechnical engineering, particularly in problems related to non-linear soil behavior in earthquake shaking. The Observatory also houses a Paleobotany & Palynology Laboratory, which is engaged in research on the origin and early evolution of land plants based on fossil spores from lower Paleozoic rocks from around the world. Geologists at Weston Observatory, under the direction of Fr. Skehan, in their study of the assembly and breakup of supercontinents through time, map and analyze the regional geology of selected localities in terranes surrounding the Atlantic Ocean.

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