Advancing Earthquake System Science: A New Phase of Research Begins

Beginning of the SCEC5 Proposal, available at

For more than 25 years, the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) has advanced earthquake system science through innovative collaborations in the earth and computer sciences. Earthquakes are a complex, wicked societal problem, requiring advisory and working groups comprised of earthquake scientists, structural and civil engineers, research programmers, science and risk communicators, and educators. February 1st, 2017 marks the beginning of the fifth phase of SCEC research, known as SCEC5. The SCEC community will continue as one of the geosciences’ largest research collaborations, furthering SCEC’s core mission:

  • Gather data on earthquakes in Southern California and elsewhere
  • Integrate information into a comprehensive, physics-based understanding of earthquake phenomena
  • Communicate understanding to end-users and society at large as useful knowledge for reducing earthquake risk and improving community resilience 

"The SCEC5 program will push earthquake science in new directions to improve our understanding of fault rupturing and strong ground shaking." said Director Thomas Jordan. "The results will provide better information about earthquake hazards in California and other seismically active regions that society can use to counter the earthquake threat."

Notable achievements during SCEC4 include: the initiation and refinement of several community models, discoveries of multi-fault ruptures and subsequent tsunamis off the Ventura coastline (a SFSA, or Special Fault Study Area), the release of the Third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF3), further advances in high-performance computing priorities, new collaborations with governments and public utilities organizations, deeper applications of SCEC science by the engineering community, continuation of notable internship programs for undergraduates, and exponential success with Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills by involving more than 53.5 million worldwide in 2016.

The strategic framework for the SCEC5 Science Plan has been cast in the form of five basic questions of earthquake science:

  1. How are faults loaded on different temporal and spatial scales?
  2. What is the role of off-fault inelastic deformation on strain accumulation, dynamic rupture, and radiated seismic energy?
  3. How do the evolving structure, composition and physical properties of fault zones and surrounding rock affect shear resistance to seismic and aseismic slip?
  4. How do strong ground motions depend on the complexities and nonlinearities of dynamic earthquake systems?
  5. In what ways can system-specific studies enhance the general understanding of earthquake predictability? These questions cover the key issues driving earthquake research in California.

Further information about the SCEC5 Science Plan, past proposals, and accomplishments can be found at

Read Associate Director John McRaney's letter to the SCEC Community, "The Final Day of SCEC4."

The Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) is headquartered at the University of Southern California and supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey. SCEC coordinates fundamental research on earthquake processes using Southern California as its principal natural laboratory.