SCEC Science Plan


The Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) was founded as a Science & Technology Center on February 1, 1991, with joint funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS). SCEC graduated from the STC Program in 2002 and has been funded as a stand-alone center under cooperative agreements with both agencies in four consecutive phases: SCEC2, 1 Feb 2002 to 31 Jan 2007; SCEC3, 1 Feb 2007 to 31 Jan 2012; SCEC4, 1 Feb 2012 to 31 Jan 2017; and SCEC5, 1 May 2017 to 30 Apr 2022. NSF has extended SCEC5 for a 6th year and the USGS has invited a separate bridge proposal to span the anticipated 2 year time period for the start of a potential new earthquake center SCEC coordinates fundamental research on earthquake processes using Southern California as its main natural laboratory.

SCEC involves over 1,000 scientists at more than 90 institutions in its research program. SCEC’s research program is investigator-driven and open to anyone who is willing to submit a qualified project plan for peer review. SCEC funding supports research and education in seismology, tectonic geodesy, earthquake geology, computational science, and many interdisciplinary studies in earthquake science.

The core funding is allocated through an annual planning process that involves input from the entire SCEC community, as well as counsel from an external Advisory Council and the sponsoring agencies. A SCEC Science Plan is released each fall, which solicits proposals from individuals and groups to participate in the SCEC research program for the following year. Every year, more than 150-175 proposals are submitted to SCEC. These projects involve over 200 distinct investigators and many more graduate students and other early career scientists. Every proposal is reviewed and about 80 subawards are executed on an annual basis (each project typically ranging from $10,000 to $35,000). About two-thirds of the SCEC science budget goes to students and early-career scientists engaged in research.

Questions not answered in the Science Plan? Email proposals[at]
Questions about the online SCEC Proposal System? Email web[at]


Earthquakes are emergent phenomena of active fault systems, confoundingly simple in their gross statistical features but amazingly complex as individual events. 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 SCEC5 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 the earthquake source to infrastructure performance and risk.

SCEC connects to the social sciences through its mission to convey authoritative information to stakeholders in ways that result in lowered risk and enhanced resilience. SCEC’s vision is to engage end-users and the public at large in on-going, community-centric conversations about how to manage particular risks by taking specific actions. The SCEC Communication, Education, and Outreach (CEO) program seeks to promote this dialog on many levels, through many different channels, and inform the conversations with authoritative earthquake information. Towards this goal, the SCEC5 CEO program continues to build networks of organizational partners that can act in concert to prepare millions of people of all ages and socioeconomic levels for inevitable earthquake disasters.

The SCEC5 Science Plan was developed by the non-USGS members of the SCEC Planning Committee (PC) and Board of Directors with extensive input from issue-oriented “tiger teams” and the community at large. The strategic framework for the SCEC5 Science Plan is 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, and they provide a basis for gauging the intellectual merit of proposed SCEC5 research activities (see full SCEC5 proposal).

The SCEC Science Planning Committee (SPC) is responsible for developing the SCEC Annual Science Plan, which describes the Center’s research interests and priorities, and the SCEC Annual Collaboration Plan, which details how resources will be allocated to projects. The SPC is responsible for formulating the Center’s science plan, conducting proposal reviews, and recommending projects to the Board of Directors for SCEC funding. Its members play key roles in implementing the SCEC5 science plan.