From Argonne National Laboratory ALCF: “ALCF supercomputers advance earthquake modeling efforts”

Argonne Lab
News from Argonne National Laboratory


May 1, 2018
John Spizzirri

Southern California defines cool. The perfect climes of San Diego, the glitz of Hollywood, the magic of Disneyland. The geology is pretty spectacular, as well.

“Southern California is a prime natural laboratory to study active earthquake processes,” says Tom Jordan, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Southern California (USC). “The desert allows you to observe the fault system very nicely.”

The fault system to which he is referring is the San Andreas, among the more famous fault systems in the world. With roots deep in Mexico, it scars California from the Salton Sea in the south to Cape Mendocino in the north, where it then takes a westerly dive into the Pacific.

Situated as it is at the heart of the San Andreas Fault System, Southern California does make an ideal location to study earthquakes. That it is home to nearly 24-million people makes for a more urgent reason to study them.

San Andreas Fault System. Aerial photo of San Andreas Fault looking northwest onto the Carrizo Plain with Soda Lake visible at the upper left. John Wiley User:Jw4nvcSanta Barbara, California

USGS diagram of San Andreas Fault.

Jordan and a team from the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) are using the supercomputing resources of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility, to advance modeling for the study of earthquake risk and how to reduce it.

Headquartered at USC, the center is one of the largest collaborations in geoscience, engaging over 70 research institutions and 1,000 investigators from around the world.

The team relies on a century’s worth of data from instrumental records as well as regional and seismic national hazard models to develop new tools for understanding earthquake hazards. Working with the ALCF, they have used this information to improve their earthquake rupture simulator, RSQSim.

RSQ is a reference to rate- and state-dependent friction in earthquakes — a friction law that can be used to study the nucleation, or initiation, of earthquakes. RSQSim models both nucleation and rupture processes to understand how earthquakes transfer stress to other faults.

ALCF staff were instrumental in adapting the code to Mira, the facility’s 10-petaflops supercomputer, to allow for the larger simulations required to model earthquake behaviors in very complex fault systems, like San Andreas, and which led to the team’s biggest discovery.

Shake, rattle, and code

The SCEC, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, had already developed the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF), an empirically based model that integrates theory, geologic information, and geodetic data, like GPS displacements, to determine spatial relationships between faults and slippage rates of the tectonic plates that created those faults.

Though more traditional, the newest version, UCERF3, is considered the best representation of California earthquake ruptures, but the picture it portrays is still not as accurate as researchers would hope.

“We know a lot about how big earthquakes can be, how frequently they occur, and where they occur, but we cannot predict them precisely in time,” notes Jordan.

The team turned to Mira to run RSQSim to determine whether they could achieve more accurate results more quickly. A physics-based code, RSQSim produces long-term synthetic earthquake catalogs that comprise dates, times, locations, and magnitudes for predicted events.

Using simulation, researchers impose stresses upon some representation of a fault system, which changes the stress throughout much of the system and thus changes the way future earthquakes occur. Trying to model these powerful stress-mediated interactions is particularly difficult with complex systems and faults like San Andreas.

“We just let the system evolve and create earthquake catalogs for a hundred thousand or a million years. It’s like throwing a grain of sand in a set of cogs to see what happens,” explains Christine Goulet, a team member and executive science director for special projects with SCEC.

The end result is a more detailed picture of the possible hazard, which forecasts a sequence of earthquakes of various magnitudes expected to occur on the San Andreas Fault over a given time range.

The group tried to calibrate RSQSim’s numerous parameters to replicate UCERF3, but eventually decided to run the code with its default parameters. While the initial intent was to evaluate the magnitude of differences between the models, they discovered, instead, that both models agreed closely on their forecasts of future seismologic activity.

“So it was an a-ha moment. Eureka,” recalls Goulet. “The results were a surprise because the group had thought carefully about optimizing the parameters. The decision not to change them from their default values made for very nice results.”

The researchers noted that the mutual validation of the two approaches could prove extremely productive in further assessing seismic hazard estimates and their uncertainties.

Information derived from the simulations will help the team compute the strong ground motions generated by faulting that occurs at the surface — the characteristic shaking that is synonymous with earthquakes. To do this, the team couples the earthquake rupture forecasts, UCERF and RSQSim, with different models that represent the way waves propagate through the system. Called ground motion prediction equations, these are standard equations used by engineers to calculate the shaking levels from earthquakes of different sizes and locations.

One of those models is the dynamic rupture and wave propagation code Waveqlab3D (Finite Difference Quake and Wave Laboratory 3D), which is the focus of the SCEC team’s current ALCF allocation.

“These experiments show that the physics-based model RSQSim can replicate the seismic hazard estimates derived from the empirical model UCERF3, but with far fewer statistical assumptions,” notes Jordan. “The agreement gives us more confidence that the seismic hazard models for California are consistent with what we know about earthquake physics. We can now begin to use these physics to improve the hazard models.”

This project was awarded computing time and resources at the ALCF through DOE’s Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program. The team’s research is also supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the W.M. Keck Foundation.

ANL ALCF Cetus IBM supercomputer

ANL ALCF Theta Cray supercomputer

ANL ALCF Cray Aurora supercomputer

ANL ALCF MIRA IBM Blue Gene Q supercomputer at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility

See the full article here .

Earthquake Alert


Earthquake Alert

Earthquake Network projectEarthquake Network is a research project which aims at developing and maintaining a crowdsourced smartphone-based earthquake warning system at a global level. Smartphones made available by the population are used to detect the earthquake waves using the on-board accelerometers. When an earthquake is detected, an earthquake warning is issued in order to alert the population not yet reached by the damaging waves of the earthquake.

The project started on January 1, 2013 with the release of the homonymous Android application Earthquake Network. The author of the research project and developer of the smartphone application is Francesco Finazzi of the University of Bergamo, Italy.

Get the app in the Google Play store.

Smartphone network spatial distribution (green and red dots) on December 4, 2015

Meet The Quake-Catcher Network

QCN bloc

Quake-Catcher Network

The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
QCN Quake Catcher Network map

ShakeAlert: An Earthquake Early Warning System for the West Coast of the United States

The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with a coalition of State and university partners is developing and testing an earthquake early warning (EEW) system called ShakeAlert for the west coast of the United States. Long term funding must be secured before the system can begin sending general public notifications, however, some limited pilot projects are active and more are being developed. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018.

Watch a video describing how ShakeAlert works in English or Spanish.

The primary project partners include:

United States Geological Survey
California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES)
California Geological Survey
California Institute of Technology
University of California Berkeley
University of Washington
University of Oregon
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

The Earthquake Threat

Earthquakes pose a national challenge because more than 143 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 39 states. Most of our Nation’s earthquake risk is concentrated on the West Coast of the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated the average annualized loss from earthquakes, nationwide, to be $5.3 billion, with 77 percent of that figure ($4.1 billion) coming from California, Washington, and Oregon, and 66 percent ($3.5 billion) from California alone. In the next 30 years, California has a 99.7 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake and the Pacific Northwest has a 10 percent chance of a magnitude 8 to 9 megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

Part of the Solution

Today, the technology exists to detect earthquakes, so quickly, that an alert can reach some areas before strong shaking arrives. The purpose of the ShakeAlert system is to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way. This can be done by detecting the first energy to radiate from an earthquake, the P-wave energy, which rarely causes damage. Using P-wave information, we first estimate the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. Then, the anticipated ground shaking across the region to be affected is estimated and a warning is provided to local populations. The method can provide warning before the S-wave arrives, bringing the strong shaking that usually causes most of the damage.

Studies of earthquake early warning methods in California have shown that the warning time would range from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds. ShakeAlert can give enough time to slow trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, to move away from dangerous machines or chemicals in work environments and to take cover under a desk, or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems. Taking such actions before shaking starts can reduce damage and casualties during an earthquake. It can also prevent cascading failures in the aftermath of an event. For example, isolating utilities before shaking starts can reduce the number of fire initiations.

System Goal

The USGS will issue public warnings of potentially damaging earthquakes and provide warning parameter data to government agencies and private users on a region-by-region basis, as soon as the ShakeAlert system, its products, and its parametric data meet minimum quality and reliability standards in those geographic regions. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018. Product availability will expand geographically via ANSS regional seismic networks, such that ShakeAlert products and warnings become available for all regions with dense seismic instrumentation.

Current Status

The West Coast ShakeAlert system is being developed by expanding and upgrading the infrastructure of regional seismic networks that are part of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS); the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) is made up of the Southern California Seismic Network, SCSN) and the Northern California Seismic System, NCSS and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN). This enables the USGS and ANSS to leverage their substantial investment in sensor networks, data telemetry systems, data processing centers, and software for earthquake monitoring activities residing in these network centers. The ShakeAlert system has been sending live alerts to “beta” users in California since January of 2012 and in the Pacific Northwest since February of 2015.

In February of 2016 the USGS, along with its partners, rolled-out the next-generation ShakeAlert early warning test system in California joined by Oregon and Washington in April 2017. This West Coast-wide “production prototype” has been designed for redundant, reliable operations. The system includes geographically distributed servers, and allows for automatic fail-over if connection is lost.

This next-generation system will not yet support public warnings but does allow selected early adopters to develop and deploy pilot implementations that take protective actions triggered by the ShakeAlert notifications in areas with sufficient sensor coverage.


The USGS will develop and operate the ShakeAlert system, and issue public notifications under collaborative authorities with FEMA, as part of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, as enacted by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7704 SEC. 2.

For More Information

Robert de Groot, ShakeAlert National Coordinator for Communication, Education, and Outreach

Learn more about EEW Research

ShakeAlert Fact Sheet

ShakeAlert Implementation Plan

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Stem Education Coalition

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About ALCF

The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility’s (ALCF) mission is to accelerate major scientific discoveries and engineering breakthroughs for humanity by designing and providing world-leading computing facilities in partnership with the computational science community.

We help researchers solve some of the world’s largest and most complex problems with our unique combination of supercomputing resources and expertise.

ALCF projects cover many scientific disciplines, ranging from chemistry and biology to physics and materials science. Examples include modeling and simulation efforts to:

Discover new materials for batteries
Predict the impacts of global climate change
Unravel the origins of the universe
Develop renewable energy technologies

Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science

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