2023-2024: Seismology: Ruth Harris

Ruth A. Harris 
U.S. Geological Survey


Ruth Harris is a Senior Scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey.  She received her S.B. from MIT, M.S. from Cornell University, and Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara.  Her research focuses on understanding large earthquakes, what causes them to start, stop, and trigger other earthquakes, and determining how they generate strong ground shaking.  Her approach involves computer simulations of earthquake rupture dynamics, and investigations incorporating information from field and laboratory observations. 

She has had a long-time interest in creeping faults, starting from the beginning of her earthquake career working on the Parkfield region of the San Andreas fault, and continuing to more recent times with her investigations of future large earthquakes on the San Francisco Bay Area’s Rodgers Creek, Hayward, and Calaveras faults. 

Ruth has served on the Board of Directors of the Seismological Society of America (SSA) for 13 years, including two stints as President, from 2015 to 2016, and currently, from 2023-2024.  She is a three-decades member of the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC), served as a SCEC science planning committee member for more than 10 years, and is currently a USGS liaison to the SCEC Board of Directors. 

Ruth has also served as an editor for peer-reviewed professional journals, including the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) journals, Journal of Geophysical Research, Geophysical Research Letters, and currently, Reviews of Geophysics.  She is also an associate editor of the Seismological Society of America’s new open-access journal, The Seismic Record. 

For her work on earthquake science, she received the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Meritorious Service Award in 2011, the UC Santa Barbara Department of Earth Science’s Distinguished Alumna Award in 2016, and she was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2019. 

Abstract: Understanding Earthquakes and How They Behave

Vivid images from the present, and both human and geologic stories from the past, heighten our awareness of the damage earthquakes can do to people, especially in the built environment.  In the 2020’s we are collecting more data than ever before, yet mysteries still remain about the inner workings of earthquakes and the mechanics of the faults on which earthquakes occur.  Sometimes we have sufficient observations to answer our questions right away, or at least answer our questions after a bit of investigation.  In this talk I will show an example of the case of creeping (continuously moving) faults, where we are able to answer some key questions using available observations of past earthquakes.  However, it is often the situation in earthquake science that solutions are not readily at hand, so we next implement the approach of computer earthquake simulations to fill gaps in our knowledge.  Simulations help us better understand the available information, to produce self-consistent ideas about what has happened in the past, and what may happen in the future.  In this talk I will show how we have done this for scenarios of large earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay area.  Finally, I note that earthquake science, including my own work, is rarely a solo activity, but instead is a rewarding long-term collaborative effort, with the goal of understanding earthquake hazards worldwide.