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Mario Juan A. Aurelio

Dr. Mario Aurelio: Fault-finder and more

The man wears multiple hats. He plays guitar and drums in a band called Unconformity Band. He plays forward striker in his football team during the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Science Sportsfest. He swims, plays table tennis and other ball sports. And, he also teaches in UP.

The man wears multiple hats. He plays guitar and drums in a band called Unconformity Band. He plays forward striker in his football team during the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Science Sportsfest. He swims, plays table tennis and other ball sports. And, he also teaches in UP.

    To mix academics with music, every semester, he asks his students who among them are interested in music. Out of those who raise their hands, he forms another band.

    Yet, these activities only take up portions of his schedule. His real business is fault finding.

    However, this is one fault finder who maintains his friendships, makes people laugh and stays happily married. His fault finding even got him an award.

The job of finding faults
    “My field is structural geology. Fault finder, that’s what they call us. Half of our job is spent finding faults,” explains Dr. Mario Juan A. Aurelio, associate professor and head of the Structural Geology and Tectonics laboratory at the UP national institute of Geological Sciences (UP- NIGS).

    A fault is a fracture or discontinuity in the earth’s crust. A moving fault is what causes an earthquake. And a fault moves because of force or pressure caused by the movement of tectonic plates, also called tectonic stress, which had built up.

    Dr. Aurelio is the 2005 Outstanding Young Scientist (OYS) awardee of the national Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), an advisory body of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Aurelio is one of only five structural geologists in the Philippines.

    According to NAST, he was cited for his scientific and technological achievements in structural geology specifically in the study of Philippine natural disasters including earthquakes.

    He says his study on the 1,200-km long Philippine Fault is his main contribution. “It (Philippine Fault) has been the culprit of many big earthquakes in the past. The most recent big one was the 1990 earthquake in Luzon. It was caused by the 100-km long Digdig Fault which is only a segment of the long Philippine fault. So if the Philippine Fault moves again in that region, the next area likely to be affected would be the one adjacent to the segment of Digdig Fault that ruptured in 1990,” he elaborates.

    As part of this thesis, Dr. Aurelio made a study on Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon Province before 2000. in 1973, he said, Quezon was hit by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake with the epicenter located in Ragay Gulf, displacing the shoreline by more than three meters and damaging several houses and bridges in the town of Calauag.

    “The purpose was to try to understand the processes during an earthquake, with the ultimate objective of trying to apply these lessons in forecasting [an earthquake],” he tells S&T Post. “They can say, ‘There’s a 50 percent chance that a magnitude so and so will occur in this general vicinity….’ As of now, that is the state of the art of earthquake prediction. Somehow, this is already a big help because everyone will be forewarned,” he says.

    What about undiscovered faults, like the one which caused the October 15, 2013 earthquake which rocked Bohol? Dr. Aurelio answers there is no better approach than experimentation and research. Aside from PHIVOLCS which is mandated to undertake such research, their own team at UP-NIGS is also pursuing other areas of research.

Faulty connections
    A research project by one of his students dealt with determining whether the February 6, 2012 earthquake in Negros had something to do with the 2013 tremor in Bohol, considering their proximity and the fact that the fault in northwest Bohol had not yet been discovered earlier on. If a fault or a segment of it moves, the stress which caused it to move is released. It is then transferred someplace.

    “It is possible that the Bohol earthquake is the consequence of stress transferring from the fault in Negros,” explains Dr. Aurelio.

    He laments though that certain technologies needed for this kind of research are costly. However, his team plans to send a proposal to DOST on this initiative.

Energy and geology
    His NAST citation also reads, “His researches addressed specific problems in the fields of energy resources caused by geologic structures.”

    One problem that his researches addressed involves locating sources of geothermal energy. These require the presence of several elements: a young volcanic edifice, a fault system, and water that can circulate underground. Another is locating energy resources concentrated in a single area to prevent multiple extractions or drillings which can be costly and, therefore, cannot deliver the expected profits. Geologic structures such as faults and folds are crucial components of a petroleum system.

    A third concern addressed by his studies is whether an earthquake affects the volume estimate of hydrocarbon resources in that area. Specialists are concerned with the possibility that some of these resources trapped underground may have flowed out of their traps or sources during an earthquake, thus affecting their computations for volume estimates.

    Dr. Aurelio’s research output also underscored the importance of detailed structural studies in the development and management of mineral and energy exploration programs. A detailed structural study involves several activities like mapping or creating geologic maps which indicate the areas with faults, as well as the degree of faulting or fracturing.

    Given these data, exploration proponents have enough information in order to decide which areas to explore further – whether for minerals, steam, or petroleum. According to Dr. Aurelio, although such studies have not been taken seriously in the Philippines in previous years, they have now become the norm.

Maintaining links
    Though”fault finding” is his trade, the 2005 OYS awardee concedes that teaching offers a different kind of gratification. “It’s a different kind of feeling when you are inside the classroom, teaching, and you see your students reacting,” he tells S&T Post.

    He reveals he keeps in touch with former students. “I also do research work for the industry sector. Some of my former students are now bosses. It’s such a great feeling to see your students become successful,” he muses.

    “Even if you sometimes caught them sleeping in your class,” he adds with a laugh.

Fun man
    His interest in music and sports finds its way into his schedule during his spare time. “We’re called Unconformity Band because we play unconformably. We’re simply not in harmony with each other,” he laughs. “In geology, unconformity refers to a structure that implies ‘no evidence was left behind.’ So this means, whenever we perform, it’s as if nothing happened.”

    Is he joking? Maybe, maybe not, he answers, still laughing, causing the S&T Post staff to laugh along with this funny man who is engaged in the serious, highly specialized business of “fault finding.” he relates that when his group performs, the audience always erupts in laughter whenever they explain why they call themselves Unconformity Band.

    His bandmates are also geologists including UP-NIGS Director Dr. Carlo A. Arcilla, and they jam at a place in Cubao at least once a month. He says he prefers jazz music when playing the guitar, but often jams with the band in rock and roll playing drums. “earl Klugh ako pag tumugtog sa gitara (i’m earl Klugh when i perform on guitar)”, he states with a smile, “but i can also like pop, ballad, rock and roll – depends on the occasion.”

    Sports may be a different story though and he may not be like Argentina’s Lionel Messi on the football field. But Dr. Aurelio takes it all in stride. “Forward striker is the most tiring position. I’m not getting any younger and so I just wait for the ball to be fed to me. My teammates are my students and so they just make things easy for me,” he claims, laughter still ringing in his voice.

Wedded bliss
    The man is just as happy with his family life. He and wife Pollen will be celebrating their Silver Wedding Anniversary in 2015. They are blessed with two sons: Gian who is in third year in UP taking up BS Biology, and Jabby who is in first year high school at the Ateneo. He tells us a secret: he is preparing something special for Pollen the following day, Valentine’s Day, which is also her 50th birthday. “Minsanan na lang, (Just this one time”), he jokes, referring to the convenience of a double celebration on February 14.

    Indeed, Dr. Mario Juan A. Aurelio wears different hats – as geologist, professor, musician, sportsman, and family man. And he wears each hat with pride and aplomb. Certainly, the man finds no fault in that.

- S&T Post, 1st Quarter, 2014

Interviewed by: By ESPIE ANGELICA A. DE LEON, S&T Media Service, DOST-STII