College of Fellows Distinguished Lecture Series Speaker

Ross Stein headshot

Ross Stein
Stanford University; Temblor, Inc. 
United States of America
Primary Affiliation: Tectonophysics


I will argue that large earthquakes can promote and inhibit failure on nearby faults, triggering other quakes, and that the transfer of stress plays a governing—but not exclusive—role in this interaction. Through a series of physical demonstrations and slides, I will use these concepts to explain the distribution of mainshocks, aftershocks and progressive earthquake sequences, around the world.  

This work has always been a team effort, so in this talk, I will be conveying work of my outstanding collaborators, Geoffrey King, Shinji Toda, Jian Lin, Tom Parsons, Jim Dieterich, Keith Richards-Dinger, Aykut Barka, and Volkan Sevilgen. They bring a rich range of insights and talents. 

At heart, we find that the stress imparted by earthquakes does not simply turn seismicity on or off; rather, the background seismicity rate is enhanced by stress increases, and suppressed by stress decreases. This, we believe, best explains why seismicity in stress trigger zones is often patchy or discontinuous; why seismicity rate declines in stress shadows can be subtle or absent, and why some aftershock zones expand, migrate or densify over time, and why some aftershocks last for years and others persist for centuries.


Ross S. Stein is CEO and cofounder of Temblor, Inc., Adjunct Professor of Geophysics at Stanford University, and a former USGS Senior Scientist. A Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and Geological Society of America, Stein received the 2012 Gilbert White Natural Hazards Award from AGU, gave a 2012 TEDx Bermuda talk, ‘Defeating Earthquakes,’ and received the 2000 Eugene M. Shoemaker Distinguished Achievement Award of the USGS. Stein helped write, animate, and appeared in the award-winning 2004 National Geographic IMAX film, ‘Forces of Nature.’

Stein was 2021 Commencement speaker for the U.C. Berkeley Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, 2020 Distinguished Lecturer of the Seismological Society of America, a 2019 Centennial Lecturer of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and the 2018 International Distinguished Lecturer of the Geological Society of America.

Stein has been a member of the Catastrophe Advisory Council of Zurich Insurance since 2007, and has been a member of the Academic Advisory Committee of the Institute of Earth Sciences, Academia Sinica (Taiwan) since 2020. Stein is former editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research—Solid Earth & Planets, and former president of the Tectonophysics section of the American Geophysical Union.