From the Directors: Springing Forward

Dear SCEC Community,

Tree with new leaves

Spring is in the air and there are several recent highlights we would like to share with you. 

In late 2023, the USGS updated the National Seismic Hazard Model (NSHM) that includes for the first time comprehensive and updated estimates of earthquake hazards for all 50 states. The new NSHM builds on the experience gained in developing several generations of Unified California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF) models by the USGS, CGS, and SCEC researchers in the last few decades, and it also utilizes some estimates of ground motions in basins based on SCEC-USGS CyberShake simulations. Seismic hazard is slightly higher overall than previously estimated, and California remains at the highest level of hazard. According to FEMA, California accounts for 65% of the annualized U.S. future earthquake losses given the high concentration of population and economic centers in the state. 

In January, the Science Planning Committee (SPC) of the Center recommended funding for 69 proposals under the 2024 SCEC Collaboration Plan, addressing a range of topics supporting our research milestones; many projects focus on Northern California or involve the entire transform plate boundary. We finalized the science plan following discussions with the board of directors and with program managers of funding agencies. Notifications of successful proposals have been sent to most PIs and a few remaining notifications will be sent soon. 

Judi Chester, who has been the Vice Chair of the SPC through SCEC5, asked to step down from that position. Before her involvement in SCEC, the Judi and Fred Chester team established themselves as internationally recognized scientists whose contributions to understanding the structure of fault zones are so profound as to define the vocabulary we use. Judi has served with distinction in multiple roles in SCEC: as leader of the Fault and Rupture Mechanics (FARM) focus group, as an at-large member of the Board of Directors, and as Vice Chair of the Planning Committee. She did all this through a deep and broad understanding of the many disciplines of earthquake science. In each of these activities Judi played a key role in guiding the SCEC enterprise. We owe her our deepest gratitude. 

Alice Gabriel is replacing Judi as the Vice Chair of the SPC, and she also brings deep knowledge across multiple disciplines of earthquake science, so SCEC will continue to benefit from deep and broad expertise under her leadership. Alice has distinguished herself particularly as a pioneer in using advanced high-performance computing to carry out earthquake simulations, which has been at the core of many SCEC efforts. We welcome Alice to the SCEC leadership team. 

January also marked the 30-year anniversary of the M6.7 Northridge earthquake. To commemorate the anniversary, the SCEC-led Earthquake Country Alliance is partnering with many organizations for “Northridge30” events throughout 2024.  On January 17, we partnered with the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California which held a Symposium at Caltech.  On February 3 we organized a special Quake Heroes Expo at CSUN with comments from officials, people from the Quake Heroes film, and partner-hosted booths for each of the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety.  The first webinar of a year-long Northridge30 series was held on February 14 with an overview of science and engineering aspects of the event (recording available); the second webinar focused on insurance issues and impacts is planned for April 23. Further events including an Infrastructure Symposium on May 17 at USC plus additional webinars and Quake Heroes Expos are listed (with more to come) on the Northridge30 Calendar.

February marked the 1-year anniversary of the devastating M7.8 and M7.6 earthquakes around the East Anatolian fault system that caused over 65,000 fatalities, vast homelessness, and high economic loss in Turkey and Syria. Similar-sized earthquakes and strong ground motions are expected within the large metropolitan areas in California that have many aged and vulnerable structures, as summarized in this article. While the large earthquakes and seismic motions in California are inevitable, we can significantly reduce the risk of future earthquakes producing catastrophic consequences through seismic retrofitting and by improving structural design. CyberShake simulations utilizing multi-scale velocity models and constrained by near-fault data can improve seismic hazard estimates and be used to test the response of different types of buildings and critical structures (e.g., power plants, dams, transportation systems). Testing buildings and other structures with simulations, rather than waiting for them to be tested by earthquakes, will save lives and billions of dollars. The recent April 2 M7.4 earthquake in Taiwan (along with the smaller April 4 M4.5 earthquake near Sacramento and April 5 M4.8 in New Jersey) highlight the fact that potentially damaging earthquakes will continue to occur (unpredictably in the foreseeable future) at many locations, and that societies should invest in making the infrastructure and communities more resilient to earthquake hazards. As mentioned in the previous newsletter, we continue to work to develop a Coalition for an Earthquake Resilient California (CERC) that will leverage multiple organizations, sponsors, and partners to reduce the seismic risk in California.

In March, a 2-day workshop on California Community Models for Seismic Hazard Assessments was conducted by several organizations (SCEC, USGS, CGS, NASA, LLNL, CIG) to advance the knowledge about key features in the lithosphere and asthenosphere of the plate boundary region that influence seismic activity and hazards. The workshop focused on current and planned Community Earth Models (CEM) that describe integrated information in the form of geologic models, fault models, rheology and thermal models, stress models, seismic velocity models, and geodetic models. A compilation of relevant models and datasets is underway, with a vision of refining and merging local and regional models to create validated best-available models for the entire Plate Boundary region. If there are models and datasets you would like to contribute, please fill this form

In the last few months, we have been working on developing paths for updating the structural organization of the Statewide Center and for succession of people in leadership positions. A Task Force for updating the structural organization (Chaired by Tim Dawson and including Sylvain Barbot, Mark Benthien, Tran Huynh, Phil Maechling, Gabriela Noriega, Artie Rodgers and Shawn Strande) developed recommendations on how to streamline the leadership, distribute responsibilities, and facilitate efficient operation of the Statewide Center. The recommendations were endorsed enthusiastically by the Director and Co-Director and are currently under consideration by the Board of Directors. We anticipate that a number of people that served in SCEC leadership components will remain for continuity, but some will rotate off and be replaced. We use this opportunity to thank all members of the Science Planning Committee and Advisory Council of SCEC5 for their selfless and dedicated work on behalf of the community. 

To prepare the Center for a smooth transition of directors at the end of the current funding cycle (around mid-2026), USC initiated a search for a Director Designate that will overlap with the current Director in this funding cycle while initiating new programs in earthquake research, education, and community engagement. The successful candidate will lead the SCEC community to evolve the vision and scope of the Center’s activities beyond 2026. For more information on the position and how to apply, please see the formal announcement.

On March 7, 2024, our community lost Tom Hanks – a distinguished and influential earthquake scientist. Tom had a keen eye for identifying important problems, asking interesting questions, and developing novel insights. He made a habit of seeing his scientific contributions through to actionable knowledge that contributed to hazard quantification and risk reduction. Tom recognized the importance of promoting the interests of talented early career scientists. He was a natural mentor and advocate, and served on the SCEC planning committee during 2007-2011. SCEC scientists across generations benefitted from his advice. He will be missed but not forgotten.

We are pleased to announce that UC Davis joined SCEC as a Core Institution, after long involvement in the Center as a participating institution, bringing the current number of our Core institutions to 25, and welcome John Rundle to the Board of Directors as the new representative of UCD. 

NSF recently approved the final Progress Report and Project Outcomes of SCEC5. With this we formally close the curtain on SCEC5 and welcome everyone to participate in activities of the Statewide California Earthquake Center. Standby for a new SCEC website with updated look and considerable new information soon.


Yehuda Ben-Zion, SCEC Director
Greg Beroza, SCEC co-Director