Seth Stein

William Deering Professor
and Institute for Policy Research Associate
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
Room F498, 2145 Sheridan Road
Northwestern University,  Evanston, IL 60208-3130
Telephone: (847) 491-5265   FAX:(847) 491-8060
email: seth AT
(substitute "@" for AT)

Carol and me at the Loma Prieta 
earthquake epicenter
Hiking near the Mendenhall 
glacier, Alaska
Rachel and me in the Des Plaines River 
canoe marathon

My research focuses on investigating plate boundary processes and deformation within the lithosphere using a range of techniques including space-based geodesy, seismology, and marine geophysics. At present, one major effort focuses on the evolution of North America's Midcontinent rift, as discussed in the video below.

Another looks at a variety of topics dealing with earthquake hazard mitigation science and policy, including the fact that commonly used earthquake hazard mapping methods often fail to predict what happens in large destructive earthquakes. I and colleagues are exploring how to assess how well these maps work, what causes the large uncertainties involved, and how to do better, as summarized in the video below.

Other topics include ongoing or past studies of earthquakes and earthquake zones that give insight into tectonic processes. These include the New Madrid seismic zone, the 2011 Virginia earthquake, the 2001 Bhuj earthquake in India, the 2004 Sumatra earthquake, 2011 Tohoku earthquake, and the Andes. Some studies, focusing on the thermal evolution of oceanic lithosphere, are cooperative projects with my wife Carol, who is on the faculty at the University of Illinois, Chicago. We try to do science, teach, advise students, and survive as the working parents of a teenage daughter, which is a bit hectic at times.

Short biography

Full c.v. and publications, most downloadable

Graduate advising

Workshop on Mathematics in the Geosciences
Northwestern University, October 3-6, 2011

Courses and Field Trips

EPS 102: Lake Michigan and the Chicago River
Class kayak trip on the Chicago River video
Class kayak trip on the Chicago River slideshow
Class kayak trip on Lake Michigan slideshow

EPS 107: Our Dynamic Planet

EPS 202: Earth's Interior
Class lakefront seismic experiment video
Class lakefront seismic experiment photos

EPS 320: Plate Tectonics

EPS 324: Earthquakes and Tectonics

EPS 326: Data analysis for the earth & planetary sciences

EPS 327: Geophysical time series analysis

EPS 351: Forming a habitable planet

EPS 390: Natural hazard policy

Climate change effects field trip to Glacial Park and Volo Bog including a visit to a geological site made famous in the film Ferris Beuller's Day Off.

Department kayak trip on the Chicago River: Slide show or Music video

May 2015 Virginia Tech Geosciences Commencement Address: Welcome to the geological community


2011 Geoprisms meeting presentation: "2011 Mineral, Virginia earthquake illustrates the seismicity of a passive-aggressive continental margin"

2011 ESF conference on Extreme Geohazards keynote lecture: "Bad assumptions or bad luck: why natural hazard forecasts often fail and what to do about it"

2011 GSA meeting session for 40th anniversary of the Geophysics Division lecture: "Bad maps or bad luck: Tohoku's embarassing lessons for earthquake hazard mapping, discussing why earthquake hazard maps often fail and what to do about it"

2011 GSA meeting lecture: "Learning from failure: new insights into continental rifting from North America's failed Mid-Continent Rift"

2011 Illinois Earthscope teachers' workshop: Lecture series and activities about New Madrid earthquake science and hazards

2011 lecture: "Uncertainties in earthquake hazard estimates: Is New Madrid really as dangerous as California?"

2010 Stephan Mueller medal lecture at European Geosciences Union: "Migrating earthquakes and faults switching on and off: A complex system view of midcontinent earthquakes"

2009 George Woollard award lecture at GSA: "New view of New Madrid: little motion, complex faults, small hazard"

2010 S. T. Crough memorial lecture at Purdue University: "Disaster Deferred: How new science is changing our view of earthquakes in the midwest"

2010 Academy of Europe lecture: "Why seismologists can't predict earthquakes"

2006 IRIS/SSA lecture: "Giant earthquakes: why, where, when, and what we can do"

Lectures for IRIS summer intern orientation on earthquakes, earth structure, earthquake prediction and hazards, and the Haiti & Sichuan earthquakes

Lecture series: "Studying neotectonics with plate motion, seismological & GPS data"

"Using space geodetic data to teach about tectonics, earthquakes, and hazards"

Lecture series for China Earthquake Authority: "Using earthquake science to predict earthquake hazards and reduce earthquake risks: using what we know and recognizing what we don't"

"Teaching introductory geophysics: what our students don't know, need to, and what we can do"

"The student pipeline, future of seismology, and what E&O might do"

"The December 26, 2004 Sumatra earthquake and Indian Ocean tsunami"

"Science, hazard, and policy issues for continental intraplate earthquakes: a view from New Madrid"

Educational Resources

Boobytrap - a model for midcontinental earthquakes

Introduction to earthquake probabilities with spreadsheet

A simple, cheap, and easy slider block model for earthquakes

Other demonstrations and labs

Lecture series and activities about New Madrid earthquake science and hazards, 2011

GSA Today Article: Formation of Northwestern's Environmental Science Major, 1996

Earth Magazine Article: Understanding Earthquake Hazard Maps (pdf), 2009

EOS Article & WWW info: Upgrading a beginning geophysics course, 1997

EOS Article & WWW info: Preconceptions about earth science among students in an introductory course, 1998

Computers and Geoscience Article & WWW info: Technology in introductory geophysics: the high-low mix, 2000


Playing Against Nature: Integrating Science and Economics
to Mitigate Natural Hazards in an Uncertain World
by S. Stein and J. Stein, 2014.

About the book and ordering information

EOS article about course based on the book

Figures and tables from the book

Powerpoint lectures based on the book

Powerpoint lecture to science teachers based on the book

Story Corps interview about writing the book

Class project resulting from the book

Disaster Deferred:
How New Science is Changing our View of Earthquake Hazards in the Midwest,

About the book and ordering information

Watch a video about the book

For Chicago Public Radio interviews about the book click here or here

St. Louis Public Radio interview about the book

Using the book to teach about New Madrid

Introduction to Seismology, Earthquakes, & Earth Structure
by S. Stein & M. Wysession, 2002

Ordering information

More about the book, including downloadable figures and Power point

Reviews of the book from EOS , Physics Today , Seismological Research Letters , and Natural Hazards

Plate Boundary Zones,
edited by S. Stein & J. Freymueller, 2002

Continental Intraplate Earthquakes: Science, Hazard, and Policy Issues,
edited by S. Stein & S. Mazzotti, 2007

The Adria Microplate: GPS Geodesy, Tectonics and Hazards,
edited by N. Pinter, G. Grenerczy, J. Weber, S. Stein & D. Medak 2005

The Mesozoic Pacific: Geology, Tectonics, and Volcanism edited by M. Pringle, W. Sager, W. Sliter, and S. Stein, 1993

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