The rapid growth of a five-year-old National Science Foundation geology program may soon mean that scientists can view the earth’s interior with the unprecedented three-dimensional clarity of medical imaging.

The NSF effort, known as the Continental Lithosphere Program, is supporting the construction over several years of an ambitious $30 million international network of seismic measuring stations. The stations, when combined with mathematical algorithms borrowed from medicine’s CAT-scan technology, will let researchers analyze the earth “as if it were a big head,” says program manager Leonard Johnson.

Using these techniques, says Johnson, geologists may be able to “see within the earth’s interior the huge convection cells generating the thermal power that drives the continental plates. But the stations will have practical applications as well. The analysis may identify previously untapped oil and mineral deposits, and pinpoint sources of geothermal energy or safe locations for waste disposal.

The Continental Lithosphere program, whose,...

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