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Learn about Geodesy!

Tectonic Geodesy

GEOS 655
Spring 2016
MW 1:00-2:30pm, F 1:00-2:00 pm, AVO Record Reading Room

Instructor: Jeff Freymueller

x7286 Elvey 413B jfreymueller@alaska.edu

Last Updated: February 8, 2016

The Earth's crust is constantly in motion, with every part of the surface moving due to plate tectonics, and constantly deforming. The Earth is subject to a variety of periodic, steady and transient deformations. Motion and deformation is characteristic of both the solid earth and the cryosphere, and hydrologic and cryospheric mass changes cause observable deformation of the solid earth. Modern space-based geodetic techniques like the Global Positioning System (GPS) provide the ideal tools for studying the kinematics and dynamics of the earth.

The course is intended to teach you how modern geodetic techniques work, with a focus on GPS, and how they are applied to the study of problems in tectonics and other causes of motion and deformation. It begins with a description of how the measurements are made, followed by a mathematical description of coordinates and strains, and then provides an overview of the mathematical models used to relate observed deformation to tectonic, volcanic, and loading source models. Practical examples and applications are interspersed throughout, and the last few weeks of the class will be dominated by such examples. We will conclude with a discussion of related problems in sea level change, altimetry, and gravity change, which are made using different geodetic tools and provide measurements of the dynamic changes in the cryosphere and hydrosphere.


There is no suitable textbook for this course; book publishers have not yet caught up with this fairly new field, although there are several books that cover parts of this course in detail. Xerox copies or PDF files of reading material will be provided. When I assign reading assignments, I expect to you read the material before the next class. That will allow me to use the lecture time to summarize key points and answer your questions, rather than trying to give you the details.


Students will be assigned several homework assignments, with a mix of analytical and numerical exercises. The homework load will not be very heavy, and will be scheduled to minimize time conflicts with the projects. Numerical exercises will be done using MATLAB or a similar programming environment. In addition, there will be midterm and final projects. The midterm project will be in the form of a written report summarizing, analyzing and synthesizing results from two or more published papers on a similar topic. The final project will be in the form of a written research proposal. In both cases, the students will also make a 10-minute presentation of their report or proposal to the class.

Grades will be based on homework assignments, and a class project. We will have several numerical exercises done using MATLAB.

Homework 70%
Project 30%


The class project will involve working with some real data, preferably GPS or InSAR data, and will be chosen by each student with the approval of the instructor. Students will construct a deformation model, or estimate a best- fitting model in an inverse sense, using an actual data set, and report their results in writing.

Class Time and Location

Class will meet Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm, and Fridays from 1:00 am to 2:00 pm. We will meet in the 3rd floor Elvey Record Reading Room (aka the AVO meeting room). There will be a few gaps within the semester due to travel, which accounts for the slightly longer class times. A few topics will be dealt with through reading and projects rather than lectures.

Homework Assigned

Homework 1. 2D GPS location problem.

Homework 2. Computing plate motions.

Homework 3. Strain and index manipulation.

Homework 4. Computing strain and rotation.

Detailed Schedule

Each lecture title is a link to the powerpoint file for that lecture.



Lecture Topic


Feb 5

1. Introduction; What is Geodesy; History of Geodesy applied to tectonics


Feb 8

2. GPS pseudorange positioning


Feb 10

3. GPS carrier phase positioning


Feb 12

4. Perspectives on Least Squares


Feb 17

5. GPS Networks, time series, reference frame: time series, practical reference frames


Feb 19

6. Measurement systems: Ambiguity Resolution, Kinematic GPS and GPS "Seismology"


Feb 22

7. Measurement systems: InSAR


Feb 24

8. Plate kinematics, rigid plate motions, plate-fixed reference frames


Feb 26

9. Practical applications: steady plate boundary deformation


Feb 29

10. Description of faults; Earthquake cycle


Mar 2

11. Dislocation theory; Screw and edge dislocations; No powerpoint


Mar 4-11

Project Time: Debate: Distributed or Block-like Deformation


Mar 21

12. Coordinates and transformations; vectors; Displacements and strains; tensors; Displacement gradient tensor


Mar 23

13. Strain tensor; Rotation; Line length and angle measurements


Mar 25

14. Strain examples


Mar 28 - April 1

Project Time: TBD


Apr 4

15. Practical applications: earthquakes; seismic vs. aseismic slip


Mar 31

16. Practical applications: slow slip and stress transfer


Apr 5

17. Practical applications: postseismic deformation


April 11-15

Project Time: TBD


Apr 18

18. Practical applications: volcanoes I


Apr 20

19. Practical applications: volcanoes II


April 22

Alaska Geological Society meeting


Apr 25

20. Glacial Isostatic Adjustment


Apr 27

21. Loading deformation


Apr 29

22. Loading + hydrology


Mar 2

23. Tides and Sea Level



Presentation of Final Projects

Dr. Jeffrey T. Freymueller
Professor of Geophysics
Geophysical Institute
University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK 99775-7320

Phone 907-474-7286
Fax 907-474-7290
Office 413B Elvey