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Steve Holbrook

Adjunct Professor

Steven HolbrookReflection/refraction seismology

Now at Virginia Tech


➤ Personal Website


Geophysics, PhD, Stanford University, 1989
Geophysics, MS, Stanford University, 1985
Geoscience, BS, Pennsylvania State University, 1982

Selected Recent Publications

(*indicates graduate or post-doc advisee first author on project initiated under my supervision)

*Hornbach, M.J., D. Saffer, W.S. Holbrook, A.R. Gorman, H. Van Avendonk, and D. Lizarralde, 3D seismic imaging of the Blake Ridge methane hydrate province:  evidence for large concentrated zones of gas hydrate and morphologically driven advection, Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 113, B07101, doi:10.1029/2007JB005392.

*Páramo, P., W. S. Holbrook, H. E. Brown, D. Lizarralde, J. Fletcher, P. Umhoefer, G. Kent, A. Harding, A. Gonzalez, and G. Axen, 2008, Seismic structure of the southern Gulf of California from Los Cabos block to the East Pacific Rise, J. Geophys. Res., 113, B03307, doi:10.1029/2007JB005113.

Wood, W.T., W.S. Holbrook, M.K. Sen, and P.L. Stoffa, Full waveform inversion of reflection seismic data for ocean temperature profiles, 2008, Geophysical Research Letters, 35, L04608, doi:10.1029/2007GL032359.

Lizarralde, D., G.J. Axen, H.E. Brown, J.M. Fletcher, A. González-Fernández, A.J. Harding, W.S. Holbrook, G.M. Kent, P. Paramo, F. Sutherland, and P.J. Umhoefer, 2007, Variation in styles of rifting in the Gulf of California, Nature, v. 448, p. 466–469 (26 July 2007), doi: 10.1038/nature06035.

Paull, C.K., W. Ussler III, and W.S. Holbrook, Assessing methane release from the colossal Storegga submarine landslide, 2007, Geophysical Research Letters 34(4), Art. No. L04601.

*Brown, H.E., W.S. Holbrook, M.J. Hornbach, and J. Nealon, 2006, Role of gas hydrate phase boundary in Storegga Slide, Norway, Marine Geology, v. 229, p. 179-186.

Holbrook, W.S., and I. Fer, Ocean internal wave spectra inferred from seismic reflection transects,  2005, Geophysical Research Letters, v. 32, L15604, doi:10.1029/2005GL023733.

*Nandi, P., W.S. Holbrook, S. Pearse, P. Páramo, and R.W. Schmitt, 2004, Seismic reflection imaging of Norwegian Sea water mass boundaries, Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 31, L23311, doi:10.1029/2004GL021325.

Holbrook, W.S., P. Páramo, S. Pearse, and R.W. Schmitt, 2003, Thermohaline fine structure in an oceanographic front from seismic reflection profiling, Science, v. 301, p. 821-824.

Other Publications

Hornbach, M.J., D.M. Saffer, and W.S. Holbrook, Critically Pressured Free Gas Reservoirs Below Gas Hydrate Provinces, Nature, v. 427, 142 - 144 (08 January 2004).

Nandi, P., W.S. Holbrook, S. Pearse, P. Páramo, and R.W. Schmitt, 2004, Seismic reflection imaging of Norwegian Sea water mass boundaries, Geophys. Res. Lett., vol. 31, L23311, doi:10.1029/2004GL021325.

Holbrook, W.S., P. Páramo, S. Pearse, and R.W. Schmitt, 2003, Thermohaline fine structure in an oceanographic front from seismic reflection profiling, Science, v. 301, p. 821-824. (See accompanying “Perspective” article by B. Ruddick, “Sounding out ocean fine structure,” on p. 772-773 of same issue.)

Holbrook, W.S., D. Lizarralde, I.A. Pecher, A.R. Gorman, K.L. Hackwith, M. Hornbach, and D. Saffer, 2002, Methane gas escape through sediment waves in a large methane hydrate province, Geology, v. 30, p. 467–470.

Holbrook, W.S., D. Lizarralde, S. McGeary, N. Bangs, and J. Diebold, 1999, Structure and composition of the Aleutian island arc and implications for continental crustal growth, Geology, vol. 27, pp. 31-34.

Research Statement

Earth scientists have known for decades that two fundamentally different types of crust form the outer shell of the Earth: oceanic crust, that is thin, young, and topographically low, and continental crust, that is thick, old and topographically high. What we have not begun understanding until more recently is the structure of the Earth’s crust at the boundaries between continents and oceans. These transition zones - continental magins - are sculpted by plate tectonic processes. Important tectonic, magmatic and sedimentary processes occur at continental margins with consequences of direct human interest. For example, large subduction earthquakes, stratovolcanos in arcs, flood basalts on rifted margins, and sedimentary basins that contain much of the Earth’s fossil fuel reserves. In addition, continental margins host a large reservoir of potentially mobile carbon in the form of methane hydrate -- a solid form of methane gas + water that forms under high pressures and low temperatures, conditions common beneath the seafloor on margins.

Through our research, my students and I aim to elucidate those processes using geophysical methods. Our principal focus is on acquisition and analysis of marine and onshore reflection and refraction seismic data, but we work closely in interdisciplinary partnerships with colleagues specializing in geochemistry, petrology, geodynamics, and physical oceanography. At sea we acquire seismic reflection, ocean-bottom seismic refraction, gravity, magnetic, and bathymetric data across a continental margin. We analyze the data in the lab to create models of the deep structure and composition of the margin. Then interpret those models in terms of the relevant magmatic, tectonic, and/or oceanographic processes. Future projects will offer opportunities for field work both at sea and onshore, as well as the chance to learn and develop quantitative data analysis techniques.

Some of our recent expeditions include:

  • A seismic survey of the methane hydrate system in the Storegga slide off Norway (September 2003). The primary purpose of this cruise (undertaken with colleagues from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the University of Tromso, Norway) was to test the hypothesis that large submarine landslides are an effective mechanism for releasing large quantities of methane from the hydrate system into the ocean/atmosphere system. Our seismic data will constrain the amounts and distribution of methane gas and hydrate inside and outside the slide scar, thus addressing the question of methane release. A second cruise, aimed at coring and geochemical sampling, will occur in July 2004.
  • A seismic survey of oceanic thermohaline structure in the Norwegian Sea (September 2003). This project, which occurred together with the methane-hydrate survey described above, entails the first joint survey of seismic reflectance and temperature structure in the ocean. The goals of this study were to determine what kinds of oceanic thermohaline structures cause acoustic reflections at the frequencies employed in marine seismic reflection profiling.
  • A joint reflection/refraction study of conjugate rifted margins in the Gulf of California (September/October 2002). This is an area where continental separation is active, and our survey (undertaken together with colleagues at Georgia Tech, Scripps, CICESE, UCLA, and Univ. of Northern Arizona) was the first to profile the full width of a rifted margin system, from continent to ridge to continent.
  • A marine reflection/refraction study of the Newfoundland rifted margin (July/August 2000). This margin is a classic non-volcanic rifted margin, which, together with data from the conjugate Iberian rifted margin, places important contraints on the processes controlling thinning and rupture of continental lithosphere. One of our seismic lines provided the baseline information on targets for Ocean Drilling Program Leg 210 J.
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Fax: 307-766-6679


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