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SCEC Research

SCEC coordinates fundamental research on earthquake processes using Southern California as its main natural laboratory. Currently, over 1000 earthquake professionals are participating in SCEC projects. SCEC’s long-range science vision is to develop dynamical models of earthquake processes that are comprehensive, integrative, verified, predictive, and validated against observations. The science goal of the SCEC core program is to provide new concepts that can improve the predictability of the earthquake system models, new data for testing the models, and a better understanding of model uncertainties.

The validation of model-based predictions against data is a key SCEC activity, because empirical testing is the most powerful guide for assessing model uncertainties and moving models towards better representations of reality. SCEC validation efforts tightly couple basic earthquake research to the practical needs of probabilistic seismic hazard analysis, operational earthquake forecasting, earthquake early warning, and rapid earthquake response. Moreover, the risk-reduction problem—which requires actions motivated by useful information—strongly couples SCEC science to earthquake engineering. SCEC collaborations with engineering organizations are directed towards end-to-end, physics-based modeling capabilities that span system processes from “ruptures-to-rafters.”

SCEC's research is distributed across four main thematic areas, and fourteen science topics.

Modeling the fault system

We seek to know more about the geometry of the San Andreas system as a complex network of faults, how stresses acting within this network drive the deformation that leads to fault rupture, and how this system evolves on time scales ranging from milliseconds to millions of years.

1. Stress and Deformation Over Time. We will build alternative models of the stress state and its evolution during seismic cycles, compare the models with observations, and assess their epistemic uncertainties, particularly in the representation of fault-system rheology and tectonic forcing.

2. Special Fault Study Areas, focusing on Earthquake Gates. Earthquake gates are regions of fault complexity conjectured to inhibit propagating ruptures, owing to dynamic conditions set up by proximal fault geometry, distributed deformation, and earthquake history. We will test the hypothesis that earthquake gates control the probability of large, multi-segment and multi-fault ruptures.

3. Community Models. We will enhance the accessibility of the SCEC Community Models, including the model uncertainties. Community thermal and rheological models will be developed.

4. Data Intensive Computing. We will develop methods for signal detection and identification that scale efficiently with data size, which we will apply to key problems of Earth structure and nanoseismic activity.

Understanding earthquake processes

Many important achievements in understanding fault-system stresses, fault ruptures, and seismic waves have been based on the elastic approximation, but new problems motivate us to move beyond elasticity in the investigation of earthquake processes.

5. Beyond Elasticity. We will test hypotheses about inelastic fault-system behavior against geologic, geodetic, and seismic data, refine them through dynamic modeling across a wide range of spatio-temporal scales, and assess their implications for seismic hazard analysis.

6. Modeling Earthquake Source Processes. We will combine co-seismic dynamic rupture models with inter-seismic earthquake simulators to achieve a multi-cycle simulation capability that can account for slip history, inertial effects, fault-zone complexity, realistic fault geometry, and realistic loading.

7. Ground Motion Simulation. We will validate ground-motion simulations, improve their accuracy by incorporating nonlinear rock and soil response, and integrate dynamic rupture models with wave-scattering and attenuation models. We seek simulation capabilities that span the main engineering band, 0.1-10 Hz.

8. Induced Seismicity. We will develop detection methods for low magnitude earthquakes, participate in the building of hydrological models for special study sites, and develop and test mechanistic and empirical models of anthropogenic earthquakes within Southern California.

Characterizing seismic hazards

We seek to characterize seismic hazards across a wide spectrum of anticipation and response times, with emphasis on the proper assessment of model uncertainties and the use of physics-based methods to lower those uncertainties.

9. Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis. We will attempt to reduce the uncertainty in PSHA through physics-based earthquake rupture forecasts and ground-motion models. A special focus will be on reducing the epistemic uncertainty in shaking intensities due to 3D along-path structure.

10. Operational Earthquake Forecasting. We will conduct fundamental research on earthquake predictability, develop physics-based forecasting models in the new Collaboratory for Interseismic Simulation and Modeling, and coordinate the Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities.

11. Earthquake Early Warning. We will develop methods to infer rupture parameters from time-limited data, ground-motion predictions that account for directivity, basin, and other 3D effects, and better long-term and short-term earthquake rupture forecasts for conditioning of early-warning algorithms.

12. Post-Earthquake Rapid Response. We will improve the rapid scientific response to strong earthquakes in Southern California through the development of new methods for mobilizing and coordinating the core geoscience disciplines in the gathering and preservation of perishable earthquake data.

Reducing seismic risk

Through partnerships coordinated by SCEC’s Earthquake Engineering Implementation Interface, we will conduct research useful in motivating societal actions to reduce earthquake risk. Two topics investigated by these engineering partnerships will be:

13. Risk to Distributed Infrastructure. We will work with engineers and stakeholders to apply measures of distributed infrastructure impacts in assessing correlated damage from physics-based ground-motion simulations. An initial project will develop earthquake scenarios for the Los Angeles water supply.

14. Velocity and Rheology of Basin Sediments. In collaboration with geotechnical engineers, we will advance the understanding of site effects and soil-structure interactions by incorporating nonlinear rheological models of near-surface rock and soil layers into full-physics earthquake simulations.