Earth and Environmental Sciences Faculty

Alan L. Kafka

Associate Professor

Director of Weston Observatory


I study earthquakes, seismic waves, and Earth processes in many parts of the world, and have long been obsessed with the enigma of why earthquakes occur in the Eastern United States (EUS), deep in the interior of the North American plate. Research on the cause of EUS earthquakes has led me into the realm of exploring whether there might be patterns in seismicity that could yield clues to the mystery of whether it will ever be possible to predict earthquakes. As part of that exploration, I developed the method of “Cellular Seismology” (CS) to investigate the extent to which locations of past earthquakes delineate zones within which future large earthquakes are likely to occur. A recent development in this research is that my students and I are now applying a modified variation of CS to explore human-induced earthquakes associated with hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) and with the construction of large reservoirs.

The research described above informs my interest in how earthquakes interact with humans and the environment. Earthquakes and their effects on society highlight our evolving environmental consciousness because they teach us humility in the face of the power of nature. Humanity has made amazing progress in creating a built environment and infrastructure to support the needs of society. But when significant earthquakes happen they can damage – and sometimes destroy – some of our greatest human-built structures. My research and teaching are based on my belief that there are things we can do to mitigate the harmful effects of earthquakes. Through advances in earthquake science and improved science education, we can make our lives less vulnerable to earthquake hazards and other natural hazards that threaten society. (Alan Kafka blogs at, and can also be followed at



  • Kasey Cannon (MS): Cellular Seismology Analysis of Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest
  • Megan Sharkey (Environmental Studies Major): Potential Human Health Effects of Infrasound from Electricity-Generating Wind Turbines at a Site in Antrim, NH
  • John Mekus: (Computer Science Major, Environmental Studies Minor): Variation in COVID-19 Global Seismic “Hush” Measurements in Urban Environments


  • Hannah Chambless: Cellular Seismology Predictability as a Measure of Association Between Wastewater Injection Wells and Earthquakes in Oklahoma, M.S. Thesis, 2018.
  • Eric Fisher: Cellular Seismology Analysis of the Western United States: Comparing and Contrasting the San Andreas Fault Zone, Cascadia Subduction Zone, and the Western Intraplate Hinterland Region, M.S. Thesis, 2017.
  • Natasha Toghramadjian: Cellular Seismology Analysis of the Caucasus Continental Collision: Laying the Groundwork for Long-Term Research on Seismicity in the Caucasus, Undergraduate Senior Thesis, 2017.
  • Emily Shinn: The Future of Farming in Massachusetts: Exploring Farmer Beliefs and Concerns About Climate Change and Attitudes Toward Adaptation and Mitigation, Undergraduate Senior Thesis, 2017.
  • Alexandra Bender: Perception of Seismic Risk: Examining How People in the Northeastern United States and Pacific Northwest Think About Local Earthquake Hazards, Undergraduate Senior Thesis, 2016.