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SCEC Mission Statement

  • Conduct research on earthquakes in Southern California and elsewhere by gathering data, conducting theoretical studies, and performing computer simulations;
  • Integrate information into a comprehensive, physics-based understanding of earthquake phenomena; and
  • Communicate that understanding to end-users and society at large as useful knowledge for reducing earthquake risk and improving community resilience.

About the Center

We study why and how earthquakes occur, evaluate their effects, and help societies prepare to survive and recover. 

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 Feb 2017 to 31 Jan 2022.

SCEC coordinates fundamental research on earthquake processes using Southern California as its principal natural laboratory. This research program is investigator-driven and supports core research and education in seismology, tectonic geodesy, earthquake geology, and computational science. The SCEC community advances earthquake system science through three basic activities: (a) gathering information from seismic and geodetic sensors, geologic field observations, and laboratory experiments; (b) synthesizing knowledge of earthquake phenomena through physics-based modeling, including system-level hazard modeling; and (c) communicating our understanding of seismic hazards to reduce earthquake risk and promote community resilience.

An Open Community

The SCEC community comprises one of the largest research collaborations in geoscience. As of 2015, there are 1096 active participants on SCEC projects, and more than half of them register for SCEC’s Annual Collaboration Meeting. SCEC is organized as a consortium of “core institutions”, which commit sustained support, and a much larger set of “participating institutions”, which join through requests initiated by scientists who wish to participate in SCEC.

SCEC’s core research program is investigator-driven and open to anyone who is willing to submit a qualified project plan for peer review. The core resources are 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. About two-thirds of the SCEC science budget goes to students and early-career scientists engaged in investigator-initiated research. The roster changes constantly as new people and institutions become involved. The Center’s working groups, workshops, field activities, and annual meeting enable scientists to work together over sustained periods, building “deep collaborations” and strong interpersonal networks that promote intellectual exchange and amplify the support for students and early-career scientists. SCEC encourages colleagues with creative ideas about earthquakes to formulate them as hypotheses that can be tested collectively. Researchers with new hypotheses are quickly brought together with experts who have observational insights, modeling skills, and knowledge of statistical testing methods.

Perspective view of components of the Unified Structual Representation (USR). A. Topography and bathymetry; B. top basement surface; C. Community Fault Model (CFM); and D. USR showing compressional wave velocity. SAF is the San Andreas fault. Topographic and bathymetric surfaces are derived from USGS 3" digital elevation model and a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration 30" grid (TerrainBase).

A Virtual Organization

SCEC is a center-without-walls that has developed the virtual organization needed to coordinate and sustain interdisciplinary, multi-institutional earthquake system science. Examples are the SCEC Community Fault Model (CFM) and the SCEC Community Velocity Model (CVM). These two long-running projects have integrated information from countless investigations of the California crust into a Unified Structural Representation, recently summarized by Shaw et al. [2015]. During SCEC4, investigators initiated a Community Geodetic Model (CGM) and a Community Stress Model (CSM). Continuing improvements to these community models, sustained by SCEC, have led to a boon in physics-based hazard modeling of Southern California.

SCEC operates collaboratories for earthquake system science that include the Community Modeling Environment (CME), the Collaboratory for the Study of Earthquake Predictability (CSEP), and a new Collaboratory for Interseismic Simulation and Modeling (CISM), recently funded by the W. M. Keck Foundation. SCEC has become a world-leading virtual organization through the innovative use of high-performance computing (HPC) to solve system-level problems. In 2015, SCEC received allocations on national supercomputing facilities totaling 362 million service units through CME-led proposals to the NSF PRAC and XSEDE programs and the DOE INCITE program. These valuable allocations give SCEC researchers the HPC resources required for computationally intensive earthquake science, directly leveraging NSF’s and DOE’s huge investments in supercomputing. The current rate of computer usage by the SCEC collaboratories is almost 1 million CPU-hours per day.

A Reliable and Trusted Partner

SCEC is a reliable and trusted partner that works with other organizations to reduce earthquake risk and promote societal resilience to earthquake disasters. SCEC engages earthquake engineers through joint projects with the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center, the California Earthquake Authority, and the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, and also directly through its active Earthquake Engineering Implementation Interface (EEII). The EEII includes two standing activities organized and run by professional earthquake engineers: the Ground Motion Simulation Validation Technical Activity Group and the Committee on the Utilization of Ground Motion Simulations.

The SCEC Communication Education and Outreach (CEO) program manages the statewide Earthquake Country Alliance (ECA), which now comprises more than 200 partner organizations and coordinates the Great California ShakeOut, involving more than 10 million Californians each year in practing and improving their earthquake safety. Through CEO efforts sustained by the SCEC core program and funded additionally by FEMA and other agencies, ShakeOut has expanded beyond California to all U.S. states and territories as well as to Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and a growing number of other countries.

The CEO program leverages SCEC research in developing mechanisms to promote community preparedness and resilience, including publications such as Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country, installation of “Quake Catcher Network” sensors in schools and museums, and the development of curricular materials. Partners in its K-14 Education Initiative include IRIS, UNAVCO, EarthScope, USGS, and CGS. One of SCEC’s broadest and deepest impacts is the highly successful Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) and Undergraduate Studies in Earthquake Information Technology (USEIT) intern programs, which have graduated since 1994 more than 550 undergraduates, including many women and underrepresented minority students.

An International Leader

SCEC is an international center that inspires interdisciplinary collaborations, and it involves many scientists from other countries. Currently, 12 leading foreign universities and research organizations are enrolled as participating institutions, and others are involved through the Collaboratory for the Study of Earthquake Predictability (CSEP) and Collaboratory for Interseismic Simulation Modeling (CISM), bilateral memoranda of understanding, and multinational collaborations, such as the Global Earthquake Model (GEM) program. The SCEC program is heavily leveraged by contributions by the foreign participants who are supported through their own institutions.