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Sunday, December 5, 2021

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An aerial view of the San Andreas fault in the Carrizo Plain, Central California. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. An aerial view of the San Andreas fault in the Carrizo Plain, Central California. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

NSF Awards $4.6M for Earthquake Study

SDSU and the Supercomputer Center at UCSD will simulate activity on the San Andreas and other faults.

Researchers from San Diego State University's Department of Geology and the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego, will assist researchers from six other universities and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop detailed, large-scale computer simulations of earthquake faults under a new $4.6 million National Science Foundation grant.

Using scientific advancements for earthquake prediction

The computer simulations will use "Gordon," the center’s innovative new supercomputer and the first high-performance supercomputer to use large amounts of flash-based SSD — or solid state drive — memory. Flash memory is more common in smaller devices such as mobile phones and laptop computers, but unique for supercomputers, which generally use slower spinning-disk technology.

“Simulations on this scale have been made possible by concurrent advances on two fronts: in our scientific understanding of the geometry, physical properties and dynamic interactions of fault systems across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales; and in the scale of available computational resources and the methodologies to use them efficiently,” said Steve Day, SDSU professor of geology, who specializes in dynamic rupture simulation.

The simulations will help us better understand the interactions that give rise to observable effects.

Studying the San Andreas

The five-year earthquake simulation project is led by the University of California, Riverside, and also includes researchers from the University of Southern California, Brown University and Columbia University. Day is joined by SDSU colleague and geology professor Kim Olsen.

Scientists will develop and apply the most capable earthquake simulators to investigate these fault systems, focusing first on the North American plate boundary and the San Andreas system of Northern and Southern California. Such systems occur where the world’s tectonic plates meet, and control the occurrence and characteristics of the earthquakes they generate. The simulations can also be performed for other earthquake-prone areas where there is sufficient empirical knowledge of the fault system geology, geometry and tectonic loading.

“Observations of earthquakes go back to only about 100 years, resulting in a relatively short record,” said James Dieterich, a distinguished professor of geophysics in UC Riverside’s Department of Earth Sciences, and the project's principal investigator.

“If we get the physics right, our simulations of plate boundary fault systems — at a one-kilometer resolution for California — will span more than 10,000 years of plate motion and consist of up to a million discrete earthquake events, giving us abundant data to analyze.”

Campaign Flag

Earthquake research is one of many ways SDSU faculty are leading innovation and discovery, a key initiative of the Campaign for SDSU. With a unique focus on the teacher-scholar model, SDSU attracts researchers interested in solving the world’s most pressing problems, while showing students how to provide future solutions. Learn more about how SDSU leads innovation and discovery, and how you can help.

From observation to forecasting

According to Dieterich, the simulations will provide the means to integrate a wide range of observations from seismology and earthquake geology into a common framework.

“The simulations will help us better understand the interactions that give rise to observable effects,” he said. “They are computationally fast and efficient, and one of the project goals is to improve our short- and long-term earthquake forecasting capabilities.”

More accurate forecasting has practical advantages — earthquake insurance, for example, relies heavily on forecasts. More importantly, better forecasting can save lives and prevent injuries.

Day also noted that the project will enrich research opportunities for students in the SDSU/UCSD joint-doctoral program in geophysics, an important focus of which is to advance the scientific understanding of earthquake hazards.