New Technology-Enabled Discoveries To Understand Earth’s Seafloor for Hazards and Sustainability Conference

The shape and motions of Earth’s seafloor and shallow subsurface record processes that can create Earth’s largest earthquakes, trigger submarine landslides that can generate tsunamis, and determine the geotechnical conditions that are required to properly site offshore green-energy technologies.

About the Sustainability Research Conference Series

The Stanford Initiative on Business and Environmental Sustainability Research Conference Series is hosted by Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.


April 29–30, 2023


Stanford University campus

More broadly, the fact that we have better imaging of the surface of Mars than the 71% of the surface of our own planet that is covered by water makes it a prime target for discovery-based exploration. The fact that we have little knowledge of the majority of the surface of our planet reflects its inaccessibility: technologies for imaging Earth’s submarine surface are far less mature, and more time and labor intensive than those used to image the subareal surface, or even the surface of other planets. For these reasons, mapping and understanding Earth’s seafloor remains a scientific and exploration frontier, discoveries from which may have direct applications to predicting natural disasters and meeting future green-energy targets.

A number of recent technologies promise to unlock the exploration of Earth’s seafloor. Developments that reduce the costs of cabling technologies promise to expand the reach of submarine observatories that can enable seafloor exploration. These same technologies can be used for Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS), which has the potential to reveal subtle motions of the seafloor that may precede Earth’s largest earthquakes. Additionally, the rise of Automated Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) provide a means to image the seafloor and shallow subsurface in a way not previously possible. Such observations have already allowed scientists to understand the mode of slip along potentially earthquake-generating faults that transect the ocean bottom, and to characterize the stability of the ocean bottom below large proposed offshore wind-farms to determine whether they are safe.

In particular, a major community effort, SZ4D is currently situated to greatly expand infrastructure related to global hazards, but has major uncertainties around the appropriate technologies in these rapidly developing fields. Aggregating knowledge and identifying fruitful directions in this context can help accelerate the utilization of technological innovation for mitigating earthquake, volcanic and landscape hazards.

This conference summarized the state-of-the-art in exploring Earth’s seafloor, examined the most promising future directions of these technologies, and highlighted applications for understanding hazards and increasing sustainability. The conference consisted of a series of lightning talks to initiate dialog in subsequent, small breakouts. The goal was to identify the most promising directions for technological innovation in these fields, and future applications that might benefit hazard assessment and future sustainability efforts.


Saturday, April 29: 9:00am–8:00pm
Sunday, April 30: 8:00am–8:00pm

Full Conference Agenda

Stanford Initiative on Business & Environmental Sustainability: Podcast

Listen as professor William P. Barnett and Stanford student Ingrid Ackermann host a discussion with professor George Hilley to discuss the takeaways from this conference.

Conference Organizer