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Fulbright-EQC scholar excited to mingle with seismic superstars

Geoscientist Jesse Kearse can’t wait to board a plane to California to finally take up his Fulbright-EQC scholarship and tap into the brightest minds at some of the world’s leading earthquake research institutes.Geoscientist Jesse Kearse“It’s been a long time coming, so I am pretty excited to finally travel to the United States,” says Kearse, who received the Fulbright-EQC scholarship in 2020 but was caught in a perfect storm of travel restrictions, visa complications and other Covid 19 regulations.

Kearse has been invited to the California Institute of Technology, better known as Caltech, by Professor Jean-Phillippe Avouac to study remote seismic satellite imaging and how to use the data and technology in a New Zealand context.

“California has some of the most prestigious research facilities studying tectonics and earthquakes and I hope to pick up new ideas and create collaborations with some of their experts that both countries can benefit from,” says Kearse, adding that the natural settings on the West Coast of the US have strong similarities with the tectonics underneath New Zealand.

The scientist from Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington hopes to get access to new expertise and data sets in the US but believes that his peers there will also be interested to hear what his colleagues in New Zealand have been working on.

“They will especially be interested in the work we have done following the Kaikōura earthquakes, as that event has been of particular interest to seismologists around the globe.”

Due to Covid restrictions, Kearse has had to shelve his original Fulbright-EQC scholarship ambition to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) to study satellite InSAR data, and says he will spend the first weeks in California determining the best use of his time at Caltech.

“I will be looking at remote sensing data from a range of different satellites, and maybe some that we do not have access to in Aotearoa New Zealand, to get a deeper knowledge of how the landscape and fault lines move here,” says Kearse.

EQC Chief Resilience and Research Officer Dr Jo Horrocks says that EQC is proud to fund Kearse’s research as the knowledge and techniques learned from US scientists will be invaluable for the New Zealand research community.

“Jesse will be a great ambassador for the New Zealand seismology community and we are excited about the potential opportunities to exchange expertise with some of the brightest in the field internationally and bring that knowledge back home.

“We hope the Fulbright-EQC scholarship will help Jesse’s professional development but also inject new expertise into our domestic capabilities.”

Kearse says that Southern California has several high-profile institutes working on cutting-edge geoscience projects and he hopes to bring as much of that expertise back to New Zealand.

“And who knows, once I get my feet under the table and get to know the right people, I may still  get to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab as well,” smiles Kearse, who hopes to arrive in the US at the end of May.