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Supercomputer simulations of 700,000 years of earthquakes can predict when they will occur




Researchers are unable to determine exactly when and where the earthquake will occur. But, a new study uses supercomputer strength calculations for the unique properties of the faults in the region, allowing seismologists to better understand the threats that may exist in Southern California.

(Photo: Masterpress / Getty Images)

Large earthquakes are rare. We simply haven’t seen such earthquakes in most of the California faults, says Kevin Milner, a computer scientist at the Southern California Earthquake Center and lead author of the new study.

The fact that most malfunctions in California have not hosted a major damaging earthquake since recent records are kept, Milner says, leaves researchers “inferring the types of earthquakes we think are possible by those faults.” This uncertainty creates challenges for risk assessment and planning.

Milner notes that the fact that most faults have not hosted a major destructive earthquake in California since recent records have been kept leaves researchers “inferring the types of earthquakes we think are feasible from these faults.” This ambiguity raises risk management and planning problems.

Related article: Japan earthquake 2021: What happened 10 years ago?

Threat assessment

(Photo: Kyodo News via Getty Images) A ​​photo taken on February 14, 2021, shows the gate of a house that fell on a street in Kore, Fukushima Prefecture, after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck northeastern Japan late on February 13.

Milner claims that the standard threat assessment is empirically based. This means that what scientists know about earthquakes is derived from evidence from historical events that can be observed and extrapolated. Milner says the analytical models are based on data from seismically active regions around the world.

They are not unique to the region and, therefore, may overestimate or underestimate the risk of a region regardless of factors specific to its faults and geology.

The researchers note that many previous studies have used hybrid models of experimental and physics models that are based on the interpretation of physical processes and take into account both area-specific and general data. Milner and colleagues have taken a new path, he says: In their model, they used only physics-based approaches.

Computing prowess

It took immense computing power to come up with these calculations, and the team turned into two of the world’s largest supercomputers to complete them.

The first step, which generated 714,516 years of seismic simulation, took about four days to work at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Milner says, on more than 3,500 processors inside Frontera.

The second step, simulating the Earth’s motions caused by all of those earthquakes, was at the summit, located at the DOE’s Oakridge National Laboratory, and took a similar amount of time, Milner says.


Milner says the researchers’ clear findings of improvements to threat plans have not been forthcoming, citing the need for more studies.

The study suggests that not only can researchers generate simulated earthquakes using a physics-based approach, but they can also use these earthquakes to model related ground motions that guide threat preparedness. Their observations are consistent with observational approaches, indicating that the current model, Milner notes, is generating reliable results.

Huge leaps

(Photo courtesy of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Europe)

As a computer seismology team, the group is “really doing something at the extreme not only them but we can go to it,” says Marta Pinkowska from the Department of Earth Sciences at ETH Zurich, who was not involved in the study.

The research team agrees that more analysis is needed before this study can provide advice or change the risk assessment.

This was an important development, and proof of concept that shows that this kind of model can work [and that it] It could create ground motions consistent with our best scientific models, “Milner says,” And now it’s time to dig into that and really examine it and build up some of our uncertainties. ” “These uncertainties include the geometries of poorly defined faults, far from the surface,” Milner says.

Also read: 6.4-magnitude earthquake shakes Croatia

For more news about natural disasters, don’t forget to follow the news of the natural world!

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