From the Director: Activities and Prospects in Early 2021

Springtime in southern California

Dear SCEC Community,

Happy March 2021 equinox! Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, the increasing COVID-19 vaccinations fuel hopes for approaching renewed in-person interactions, and SCEC is bubbling with activities.

The SCEC Science Planning Committee has completed the review of proposals submitted for the 2021 collaboration plan and recommended funding for almost 100 science projects. The collaboration plan has been submitted to the Board of directors for comments. When the plan is approved by the Board and our funding agencies, we will be able to notify PIs of funding decisions (provided they have no overdue reports). We are receiving progress and final reports for projects funded last year. The recent results and publications provided by SCEC researchers in these reports will inform the next set of research priorities and targets of the Center.

We have been engaged with program managers at NSF and USGS to continue SCEC activities after this nominal final year of SCEC5 and during the competition process for the next earthquake center(s). I and Co-Director Greg Beroza—in coordination with the other SCEC leadership—are now developing requests to the agencies for bridge funding that will be submitted in the coming months. We are optimistic that SCEC will continue to operate smoothly throughout the bridge period with funding provided by both the USGS and NSF.

SCEC leadership continues to develop exciting plans for the next phase of the Center. The Organizational Structure committee (chaired by John Shaw) and the Science Questions committee (chaired by Emily Brodsky) summarized their initial recommendations, which have been circulated among SCEC leadership groups for comments. Once the formal NSF solicitation for the next earthquake center(s) is released, we will gather additional input from the broader community for future directions for the new center. Both committees emphasized the central roles of research computing, cyberinfrastructure, and information technology in advancing current and future earthquake research activities, and the importance of translating science results into actionable risk reduction measures. In February we established a task force (chaired by Artie Rodgers) to evaluate emerging opportunities in computational geosciences, state-of-the-art research computing, algorithms, data management and accessibility, and potential synergies that can advance the Center’s activities. The task force has begun their work and will provide its recommendations in May. 

Improved understanding of earthquake processes requires detailed in-situ observations. Near fault data are essential for testing and developing further models of earthquake processes. Viewed from the far-field with typical seismic and geodetic data, rupture zones are treated as surfaces sustaining essentially only shear deformation, and transient volumetric changes along with other local changes are typically ignored. In close view, however, rupture zones have variable width with broken materials that can be in places hundreds of meters, shear deformation is accompanied by dynamic dilation and other transient volumetric changes, and there are additional local processes reflected, for example, by various rock damage products. The article Why do some faults appear to slip backwards? and embedded video by David SandwellXiaohua Xu and Thomas Rockwell provide clear illustrations of the volumetric character of deformation following the M7.1 Ridgecrest 2019 earthquake and associated mixture of right- and left-lateral motions on many small faults around the main rupture zone. Laboratory fracturing experiments show that a mixture of right-and left-lateral faults sustaining both shear and volumetric deformation characterizes also the approach to large failure events. These and other local features can have first-order effects on the energy partitioning between dissipation and radiation, constitutive laws governing the failure process, and other key aspects of earthquake and fault physics.

SCEC-IRIS-UNAVCO Community Workshop: Rupture and Fault Zone Observatory (RuFZO)—April 13, 2021

To obtain in-situ data within rupture zones of significant earthquakes that will allow testing and developing further models with increasing predictive capabilities, SCEC collaborated with IRIS and UNAVCO on a pre-proposal to the NSF Mid-Scale RI-2 program to deploy a Rupture and Fault Zone Observatory (RuFZO). The proposed RuFZO consists of arrays of seismic, geodetic and other sensors that cross the three major branches of the San Andreas system in southern California. A joint SCEC-IRIS-UNAVCO Community Workshop will be held on April 13 to discuss how the RuFZO can best serve the earthquake science community and record fundamental new data associated with pre-, during- and post-rupture processes. We hope to have broad community involvement in the workshop and following RuFZO activities.

The RuFZO pre-proposal also features training and education components, including internships, professional development workshops, and other activities. These will build upon the programs described in the article Opportunities from SCEC’s Experiential Learning And Career Advancement.

Elements of societal shock resilience framework

In February, SCEC submitted a multi-institution proposal led by Christine Goulet to run a collaborative workshop titled “Integrated research on societal infrastructure resilience to stressing events through interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary convergence", as part of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. We expect that if funded, the workshop planned for May and subsequent activities will foster collaborations among various groups working on natural hazards, and enhance the Center’s ability to translate earthquake science research into effective risk reduction measures.

The Collaboratory for the Study of Earthquake Predictability (CSEP) and a working group of the Real-time earthquake rIsk reduction for a reSilient Europe (RISE) project have been running since March 16 a series of workshops that focus on introducing the recently developed pyCSEP software for testing earthquake forecasts, and on training users of this new software toolkit. The workshops continue in March and everyone interested is invited to attend.

Earlier this year we lost one of the world’s leading disaster communications scholars to COVID. Dennis Mileti, former Director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, advocated creating messages and warnings that encouraged people to prepare for and respond appropriately to disaster risks. Dennis was a proponent of bringing experts from different fields in order to establish a framework for sustainable hazard mitigation. He served on the SCEC Advisory Council for more than 10 years, and steered SCEC towards improving our disaster communications capabilities. For more on Dennis’ background, work and connections to SCEC, see the article Dennis Mileti, SCEC Advisor and Friend, Dies at 75, written by Mark Benthien whose work has been greatly influenced and inspired by Dennis. Mark recently celebrated his 25th anniversary working at SCEC. Mark’s substantial contributions to the SCEC Communication, Education and Outreach programs are highlighted in A Tribute to Mark Benthien on his 25th Anniversary at SCEC.

The year 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand and the 50th anniversary of the 1971 San Fernando earthquake in California. These and other large events motivate us to redouble our efforts to understand earthquake processes and do what we can to mitigate the associated risks. On February 9, 2021 several online events were held marking the San Fernando earthquake anniversary, including a workshop organized by the SCEC-administered Earthquake Country Alliance (SoCal), featuring a presentation by Tim Dawson (California Geological Survey), which discussed the lessons learned since 1971. The article Why California is Safer Because of the San Fernando Earthquake written by Steve Bohlen, Acting State Geologist (CGS), emphasizes the need for seismologists and engineers to better understand the effects of ground motion and how structures respond to earthquake shaking and that every Californian has an important role to play in earthquake safety.

March 11, 2021, was the 10th anniversary of the major cascading hazards associated with the 2011 Mw 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake in Japan. Many of us watched on live television as the black water generated by the tsunami swept through towns, villages and fields, and the unfolding Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. We are still learning about the effects on Japanese society, and what efforts are needed to rebuild in the region. Two M > 7 earthquakes occurred in the last few weeks not far from Fukushima. The tsunami from the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake also caused more than $100 million in damage along the California coast, prompting state agencies to expand public education efforts. The article How SCEC Helps People “ShakeOut” for Tsunamis describes SCEC’s ongoing partnership with the state of California to help communities (including in other states and regions) prepare for tsunamis.

We recently renewed collaborative agreements with the Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University and the Earthquake Research Institute, the University of Tokyo. We are currently considering conducting a joint summer school on Machine Learning for Earthquake Science. Check SCEC’s website and announcements in the coming months for more information on this and other activities.

Stay healthy and well,

Yehuda Ben-Zion, SCEC Director

In this Newsletter

Science Highlights

Education Highlights

Future Articles

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