From the Director: Looking back at 2019, and forward to SCEC's future

Dear SCEC Community,

SCEC Director Yehuda Ben-Zion (USC)

It is almost a year since I stepped into the director position, and I continue to learn about (and be impressed by) the level and diversity of research and educational efforts done under the SCEC umbrella. The high complexity of earthquake processes and profound societal relevance require multidisciplinary teamwork and integrative activities as embodied and convened by SCEC. We have been successful because of our combined, collaborative efforts over many years, the foundational grounding by former Center directors, and the continual forward thinking by the highly talented members of the SCEC community. SCEC facilitates multi-disciplinary collaborations with outcomes that are greater than the sum of the components. This “magic” is a key to our success. 

The July 2019 Ridgecrest earthquakes ended a 20-year “drought” of large earthquakes in southern California, and highlighted again the highly complex nature of earthquakes. As the Ridgecrest sequence developed, many people from federal, state, and local agencies worked with scientists and engineers from academia and other organizations to coordinate field investigations, gather perishable data, and share information widely. The USGS and CGS were responsible for coordinating the field reconnaissance, while SCEC focused on getting our academic-based scientists funds and logistic support to participate in the response by means of an NSF RAPID grant, and by contributing to the NSF-sponsored Geotechnical Extreme Event Reconnaissance (GEER) Association survey. Many initial findings on the Ridgecrest sequence were shared at the 2019 SCEC Annual Meeting

While rapid post-earthquake reconnaissance allow collection of important data, it is essential that we also obtain near-fault observations before and during the occurrence of significant earthquakes. Arrays of sensors across major faults can record crucial data needed to constrain models on the transition from inter-seismic deformation to large events, and on the physical processes that occur within earthquake rupture zones. We have begun efforts to fund such arrays and will update you with new information when available. 

In September, NSF announced its intention for a new open competition for an earthquake research center. Throughout 2019, we have strengthened the management structure of SCEC for more effective coordination of research and educational activities. In November, the Board of Directors elected John Shaw (Harvard) and Emily Brodsky (UCSC) to serve as chair and vice chair of the board, respectively, for the next 3 years. I congratulate John and Emily and thank them for taking on these critical SCEC roles.

We are well-poised to respond to NSF’s call for a new earthquake center. SCEC has a proven track record of fostering innovative investigator-driven studies on diverse topics and integrating the results within collaborative community models and products. We continue to be engaged in fundamental unsolved problems in a natural laboratory with excellent access to plate-boundary faults in highly populated areas. The call for a new earthquake center provides an exciting opportunity to broaden and deepen our future endeavors, and there will be ample opportunities for the SCEC community to contribute to various initiatives as we build the next Center together. 

In closing, I want to thank everyone for your past, present and future contributions to the SCEC collaboration. This year has showcased the many strengths and value of the SCEC Community, rising to the challenges of leadership transitions, major earthquakes, an NSF management review, and more. SCEC is a remarkable collaboration, and these events have strengthened our capacity for responding to future challenges and opportunities. I look forward to working with you on an expanded vision for the new Center, which builds on our achievements while continuing to push the forefront of earthquake science. 

Happy holidays and best wishes for 2020,

Yehuda Ben-Zion
Director, Southern California Earthquake Center

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We study why and how earthquakes occur, evaluate their effects, 

and help societies prepare to survive and recover. 

SCEC is headquartered at the University of Southern California with a 

community of more than 1,000 scientists across 75 institutions.