URI oceanography doctoral graduate awarded postdoctoral fellowship

Xiaozhuo Wei to study volcanoes

May 25, 2023

Talk about a great ending and a great beginning. Xiaozhuo Wei is experiencing both these days.

He received his Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island Friday, May 19, and he has also accepted a Barr Foundation Fellowship from the California Institute of Technology to continue his research into earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and deep earth structures using seismic waves.

Wei spent the last several years working under the supervision of URI Professor Yang Shen in the Seismology Lab at the Graduate School of Oceanography. Specifically, Wei has been using seismology to study the internal structure of volcanoes.

“We study where you have intrusive rocks, extrusive rocks, where the lava deposits are deep and where they are shallow,” Wei said.

In May of 2018, Hawaii’s Kilauea experienced what Wei describes as the largest eruption in the last 200 years. While no one was killed, news outlets reported that the lava flow destroyed more than 700 homes and displaced more than 2,000 people.

“Soon after the eruption, Professor Shen petitioned to initiate a rapid response proposal to deploy special equipment off Kilauea. Our lab led a rapid response ocean-bottom seismometer deployment to capture the offshore aftershocks under the submarine south flank of Kilauea,” Wei said.

His earthquake detection work recorded more than 370,000 events, revealing critical information about volcano eruption processes. His seismic imaging work provided a high-resolution image of the shallow crust of the island which improved scientist’s understanding of the structure, formation, and evolution of the Island of Hawaii. The work of Wei and his team resulted in four papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

Wei says that he put “plenty of sweat” into his research, and he is also grateful to Shen. “He had a lot of experience with the kind of code and instruments I was proposing to use,” Wei said. “He helped me use his established methods. He also encouraged me to work on my questions because he had the resources and background. He didn’t force me to work on his idea; he allowed me to work on mine. I had the freedom to design my own project, not necessarily just simply doing what the professor told me to do. He was a very caring and good guide.”

Wei said that attending the University of Rhode Island was a great experience.  “There are some tough, very specialized scientists here, including my professor. Even though we are the smallest state, I like the University’s motto, ‘Think Big’.”

This article was written by Hugh Markey.