From temblor: “Large earthquake on Japan’s west coast points to a profound shortcoming in the national seismic hazard model”


From temblor

June 24, 2019
Sara E. Pratt, M.A., M.S.

On Tuesday, June 18, 2019, a magnitude-6.4 quake struck the west coast of Honshu along the eastern Sea of Japan. The quake was shallow — 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) deep — and only 6 kilometers (3.7 kilometers) offshore, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Its proximity to the cities of Tsuruoka and Sakata, both of which have populations of about 100,000, meant many were exposed to shaking. No one was killed, 21 people were injured, and despite the shallow depth, infrastructure damage was minimal. But the quake was a reminder that this region has experienced several large inland quakes over the last 15 years, and could again. In fact, two magnitude-6.8 earthquakes struck near the hypocenter of this week’s quake in Niigata in 2004 and 2007. The 2004 Niigata-Chuetsu quake killed 40 people, injured 3,000 and damaged more than 6,000 homes, and the 2007 Niigata quake killed seven people, injured more than 830 and destroyed 500 houses.

In the hours that followed the June 18 Tsuruoka quake, aftershocks ranging from magnitude-2.7 to magnitude-4.1 were recorded around Yamagata and Niigata. Credit: HI-Net/NIED

“The tectonic situation, epicenter offshore near the coast, and the size of the quakes are quite similar,” says Prof. Shinji Toda, a geophysicist at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University who studies inland quakes.

Crucially, the hazard of large earthquakes striking off the coasts of Yamagata and Niigata prefectures is being underestimated by Japan’s national earthquake hazard models, according to some seismologists.

“The government is underestimating the probability of magnitude-7.5 to -7.8 events along the eastern Sea of Japan,” says Prof. Toda. “It misleads the general public [that] we will not have any large events near the coast of Yamagata and Niigata.”

The June 18 thrust fault rupture (where the crust is being compressed horizontally) occurred on the eastern margin of the Sea of Japan in a seismic zone where numerous active faults accommodate the strain of east-west crustal shortening transmitted from the subduction of the Pacific Plate, says Prof. Toda.

During the past 5-25 million years (the Miocene epoch), this region underwent ‘backarc’ extension (stretching), opening what is now the eastern Sea of Japan. Those tensional faults have now been reactivated, with their sense of slip reversed, as thrust faults. Thus, “the hazard of inland large quakes is always high,” Prof. Toda says.

Although the country’s east coast, where the Pacific Plate subducts beneath the North American and Eurasian plates in the Japan Trench, is more prone to large thrust quakes like the March 2011 magnitude-9 Tohoku megathrust quake, the west coast of Japan also is quite seismically active, a fact that is not being adequately accounted for in Japan’s earthquake hazard model, says geophysicist and Temblor CEO Ross Stein.

When compared to Japan’s national earthquake model, the GEAR model indicates a higher rate of earthquake activity on the eastern margin of the Sea of Japan, with a significant lifetime likelihood of experiencing a magnitude-7 or -7.5 quake.

Japan’s earthquake hazard models are released by the Japan Seismic Hazard Information Station (J-SHIS). The J-SHIS model uses inputs based on known faults, historical quakes and assumes fairly regular recurrence intervals. It has been criticized for underestimating the hazard of future the Tohoku quake, whose tsunami killed more than 18,000 people.

Scientists and officials in “Japan have done their very best to create a model that they think reflects future earthquake occurrence based on the expectation of regularity in the size and recurrence behavior of earthquakes. They have also built in the expectation that the longer it’s been since the last large earthquake, the more likely the next one is,” Stein says.

The J-SHIS model thus anticipates a strong likelihood that the next megaquake will occur in the Nankai Trough, off the southeast coast of Honshu, where two deadly magnitude-8.1 quakes struck in the 1940s. The 1944 Tōnankai and the 1946 Nankaidō quakes both triggered tsunamis and killed more than 1,200 and 1,400 people, respectively. “The Japanese model is putting all of its weight on this area, southeast of Tokyo and Nagoya,” Stein says.

Another model, the Global Earthquake Activity Rate (GEAR) forecast, that was developed by a team from UCLA, University of Nevada Reno, and Temblor, and is used in the Temblor app, indicates that quakes on the west coast of Honshu could likely reach magnitude-7 or magnitude-7.5 in the typical resident’s lifetime.

Unlike traditional earthquake hazard models, GEAR does not include active faults or historical earthquakes, which are not uniformly available around the globe. Instead, GEAR takes a global approach that uses only two factors: the stress that drives quakes (measured by GPS) and the events that release that stress, represented in the model by a complete global record of all quakes greater than magnitude-5.7 that have occurred over the past 40 years (from the Global CMT catalog).

“What the GEAR model says is that the Tohoku coast is a lot more likely to produce a large earthquake than the Japan Sea side, but the Japan Sea side is still quite active,” Stein says. “It should produce large earthquakes and has.”

Significant historical earthquakes in the shear zone along the eastern Sea of Japan include the 1964 magnitude-7.5 Niigata earthquake, the 1983 magnitude-7.7 Nihonkai-Chubu earthquake and the 1993 magnitude-7.8 Hokkaido-Nansei-Oki earthquake.


USGS Event Pages –

Bird, P., D. D. Jackson, Y. Y. Kagan, C. Kreemer, and R. S. Stein (2015). GEAR1: A global earthquake activity rate model constructed from geodetic strain rates and smoothed seismicity, Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 105, no. 5, 2538–2554.

Toda and Enescu, (2011). Rate/state Coulomb stress transfer model for the CSEP Japan seismicity forecast. Earth, Planetary and Science, 63: 2.

See the full article here .


Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

Earthquake Alert


Earthquake Alert

Earthquake Network project

Earthquake 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