Monique Scales's earthquake fieldwork with SMU’s seismology team began when she was an undergraduate.

By Kim Cobb
SMU News 

DALLAS (SMU) – Monique Scales was in SMU's Fondren Library on the afternoon of Jan. 7, 2015, when a magnitude 3.6 earthquake rumbled across Dallas and Irving. She decided then and there that she didn't know as much about earthquakes as she thought she did.

Monique Scales
Monique Scales

“There were so many things that were weird about it,” Scales recalled. “Nothing was shaking – I heard it.”

A little more than two years later, Scales is graduating from SMU with a master's degree in geophysics – and on the road to a career studying earthly rumblings. She’s headed next to the University of Utah to pursue a Ph.D.

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“I definitely want to continue research,” Scales said. “I would love to work for the federal government in nuclear monitoring.”

Using seismic and acoustic tools to discern the difference between an earthquake, a conventional explosion and a nuclear weapon are a major focus in SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College. Two seismic stations installed and monitored by SMU are part of the International Monitoring System of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization. But Scales arrived at SMU thinking she wanted to become an environmental engineer.

“I slowly transitioned to environmental science, and geology was required for that,” she said. “I took my first geology class and I absolutely fell in love.”  From there, she discovered that studying geophysics – the physical properties and phenomena of the Earth – was the quantitative discipline that she was looking for.  Scales earned undergraduate degrees in geophysics and applied math.

It was serendipity that put Scales together with Heather DeShon, associate professor of geophysics and a leader on SMU’s seismology research team. DeShon was recruiting for help in the lab to study a series of earthquakes in the Dallas-Irving area, and Scales was first to respond.  That was the fall of 2014, and Scales was planning to graduate from SMU in the spring.

“I was locating earthquakes by reading the results of the monitoring equipment deployed by SMU,” Scales said.  “So every day, we’d update our local catalogue with information on the location and magnitudes of events we were recording. I’d take the readings off the SMU equipment via a wi-fi network.“

Monique Scales and Heather R. DeShon
Monique Scales works with Heather DeShon

She has since been able to participate in installing some of the field equipment recording the tremors in the North Texas region – many too small to be felt, but all important in developing a full picture of the location and possible causes of the seismicity.

That field experience, coupled with experiencing the strong-for-Texas earthquake she experienced in Fondren Library, is what convinced Scales that she wanted to continue studying seismology.

“There’s the field work, and I’ve gone out to schools and high schools to do community outreach,” Scales explained.  “I’ve gotten to take part in an earthquake exhibit at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.  I don’t think I would have had that experience at another university. SMU’s small size and access to the surrounding community has given me that opportunity.”

And then there’s her master’s thesis: Scales is lead author on a paper she co-authored with DeShon, SMU geophysicist Beatrice Magnani and others that documents nearly a decade of induced earthquakes on the fault associated with a magnitude 4 earthquake that occurred in 2015 in Venus, Texas.

“Monique’s enthusiasm for all aspects of geophysics is reflected in the composition of her master’s thesis,” said DeShon. “She collaborated with numerous faculty at SMU, the University of Texas and the U.S. Geological Survey over the course of her master’s thesis and spent two summers at the Air Force Research Laboratory New Mexico.  We are proud that she will be pursuing her Ph.D in seismology applications to nuclear monitoring at the University of Utah.”