The first Weston Observatory seismographs were installed at the Campion Center, next to the current Observatory, and began recording earthquakes in January 1931. The instruments were maintained by the Jesuits for many decades and were relocated to the newly built Weston College (now the Weston Observatory) in 1949. The Observatory became affiliated with Boston College in 1947.

From the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Commemorative Volume, Jesuit Seismological Association

Weston Seismological Observatory, Weston, Massachusetts

By Daniel Linehan, S.J.


Late in the year 1928, Georgetown University through the kindness of its Rector, Reverend Coleman Nevils, S.J., and the Director of the Observatory, Reverend Francis A. Tondorf, S.J., donated a pair of Bosch-Omori pendula (25 kilograms) to Weston College. Reverend E.P. Tivnan, S.J. then Rector of Weston College had been interested in erecting a seismic station at Weston and it was through his efforts that Georgetown University donated this equipment. Reverend Henry M. Brock, S.J. was appointed Director of the Station.

Some months passed before the equipment was put into operation. Several locations were tested, but the station was finally located in the basement of the "Mansion" where bedrock was but a few feet below floor level. In July, 1930, the first records were put on the drums, but even then, due to lack of experience, it was doubtful if the equipment was in proper adjustment and nothing short of an intensity 10 quake would have been recorded. In December of that year Reverend Frederick W. Sohon, S.J. of Georgetown University visited the station and adjusted the instruments. The first earthquake was recorded in January 1931.

During this inaugural period many men were responsible for the labor of beginning the station. Besides the interest of Fathers Tivnan and Brock, the theological students Messrs. T.H. Quigley, J.A. Blatchford, T.D. Barry and B.F. Doucette, of the Society of Jesus, were responsible for the many hours of work and testing that went into building the station and erecting the equipment. Reverend T.H. Quigley, S.J., was the first observer and held that post until succeeded by Reverend J.B. Doherty, S.J. Father Doherty was succeeded by Reverend D. Linehan, S.J., in the summer of 1934.

In August, 1934, Reverend F.J. Dolan, S.J., Rector of Holy Cross, Worcester, donated the Wiechert (80 kilogram) that had been stalled at that College in 1909. The Wiechert was installed in the same vault with the Bosch-Omori. Reverend G.A. O'Donnall was appointed Director of the Station in 1935 and retained that post until 1940. In the summer of 1935 friends of Reverend M.J. Ahern, S.J., took the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary of the priesthood to raise a fund to purchase better seismic equipment for Weston. It was decided to purchase Benioff (100 Kilogram) pendula with long and short period recording assemblies. In October of that year the fund was presented to Father Ahern and the instruments ordered. Preparations were make to house the new installation near the Bosch-Omori and Wiechert. The vertical component of the Benioff was installed in July 1936, and the first records were run on the 6th of this month. The horizontal components arrived later and were put into operation on November 11, 1936. Weston's greatest benefactor both in making the fund for the equipment a success and also arranging for the erection of the Benioff equipment was Mr. James R. Burke of Boston.

In 1939 the Humble Oil and Refining Company, Houston, Texas, donated a 12 trace seismic reflection assembly to the Observatory to be used in research at Weston. Later other equipment was build at Weston by members of the stall, mostly for refraction work. In 1949 the Century Geophysical Corporation, Tulsa, Oklahoma, donated a 24 trace portable unit. With this assembly of field equipment the Observatory has had several crews in the field at one time. Hundreds of miles of territory have been surveyed by members of the Observatory using for the most part the refraction technique. Besides conducting this work in New England, we have also operated in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oklahoma and California. Some members of the staff have spent time working with seismic crews engaged in reflection work in Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and the Gulf of Mexico.

While Weston Observatory was not the first group to operate shallow refraction surveys in New England it is believed that we have operated more surveys in this area and demonstrated to engineers that this method can be used economically in many of their problems. Applications have been made to the design and location of State highways; for the location of dam sites and the types of subsurface conditions to expect; for foundations of buildings, bridges and other edifices; for the location of tunnels under waterways; for the location of ground water supplies in glaciated regions and other similar problems.

In 1940 Reverend M.J. Ahern, S.J., was appointed Director of the Observatory and has held this appointment to the present time. Although the Observatory has been connected to Boston College since its opening, this connection was informal with Boston College exercising no jurisdictional right over the Station or its personnel. In 1947 it was formally accepted as a Department of Boston College offering courses in geophysics and geology to students in the Graduate School. In 1949 the scientific and office equipment was moved to a new building built for the needs of the Observatory staff and work. This building has 7,000 square feet of floor space and contains 15 rooms including a geological museum, offices, library, instrument rooms, electronic laboratory, garage for field units, dark rooms, etc. The building was designed in 1946 and begun during that year. Already with added departments and material we already feel crowded. In the construction of this building our most interested and greatest benefactor has been His Excellency, Archbishop Richard J. Cushing of Boston.

The Observatory staff has published over 100 separate articles exclusive of regular monthly and bimonthly Station and Observatory Bulletins. Members have been engaged in several Governmental projects such as the construction of earthquake proof buildings in the West Indian Region; effect of explosions on private dwellings; the location of submarine explosions by seismic methods; the study of subsurface conditions in limestone regions; and many studies on water supply sources in various States. At the start of the last World War, we were requested to send in daily reports on microseismic conditions and received a letter of commendation from the Chief of one of the Departments thanking us for suggesting and inaugurating this study. At the close of the War the Navy Department took over this study.


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.