PhD Candidate in Earth and Planetary Sciences
Leah Salditch is a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. Through her research, Leah studies the seismic intensity of earthquakes and aims to improve earthquake forecasting. She was recently profiled by the Seismological Society of America.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
I study earthquake hazards – the potential of earthquake shaking to affect the human population. One of my research avenues looks at how to improve our statistical models of large earthquake occurrence, which will help improve earthquake forecasts. I also collect seismic intensity data in California. Seismic intensity is a measure of ground shaking caused by earthquakes based on how the shaking affects human-made structures and the objects within them. This type of data is interesting because a majority of it relies on citizen scientists to report their experiences and damages in an earthquake. Information can also be gleaned from newspaper reports and photographs. For earthquakes that happened before the internet, I dig through newspaper archives and government reports and, if possible, personally interview people to collect data. Learn more on NU Chimp’s Twitter page. (check out our Twitter account @NU_CHIMP).
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
In 2014, when I started my master’s program in geosciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, I intended to study geomorphology, but wound up studying induced seismicity (earthquakes caused by human activity). The reason was all about timing – the causes of induced seismicity in the central United States were just beginning to be understood, and these earthquakes were becoming a serious public policy issue where I lived in North Texas. The culprit was waste water injection, a practice associated with hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas production. The seriousness of the issue for public safety piqued my interest, both scientifically and personally, as a resident of the affected area. Studying earthquake hazards led me to Northwestern – to work with leading expert Professor Seth Stein. While I did not expect to wind up at Northwestern, I am so grateful that I did.
What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
I am collecting data that will inform future seismic hazard maps and building codes. This has the potential to impact almost 40 million people – the entire population of California.
What books are on your bedside table?
Lots of fiction and the latest issue of Bon Appetit magazine
What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
A TV meteorologist
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
My first publication in a scientific journal as lead-author, with two of my academic heroes as co-authors: Professor Seth Stein and Dr. Susan E. Hough, a seismologist at the United States Geological Survey. (Salditch, L., Hough, S.E., Stein, S., Spencer, B.D., Brooks, E.M., Neely, J.S. and Lucas, M.C. (2018). The 1952 Kern County, California earthquake: A case study of issues in the analysis of historical intensity data for estimation of source parameters. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, Vol. 283, p. 140-151.)
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