New science gateway for earthquake forecasting researchers


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By Cynthia Dillon, SDSC Communications

Ahmed Elbanna
Ahmed Elbanna

A multi-institution team including CEE Associate Professor Ahmed Elbanna will develop a new science gateway for the community of researchers who study earthquake forecasting, thanks to a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Current studies about earthquake rupture forecasts (ERF) provide information about the probabilities of when earthquakes will occur, where they’ll take place and how strong they will be. But advanced physics-based models that track fault system evolution backed up by observations are not accessible to a wide scientific community, which reduces the pace of research advancements and delays the benefits to society.

To address the problem, Elbanna joined scientists from the Southern (transitioning to Statewide) California Earthquake Center (SCEC) at the University of Southern California (USC), the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Scripps) at UC San Diego. Their proposal to create a new science gateway for the community of researchers who study ERFs was awarded the grant through NSF’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure.

Along with Elbanna, the team for this collaborative grant award includes the project’s Lead Principal Investigator from SCEC/USC, Yehuda Ben-Zion; Amit Courasia of SDSC/UC San Diego; and Alice-Agnes Gabriel of Scripps/UC San Diego.

With goals to advance the science of ERFs, obtain new insights on earthquake physics, improve seismic hazard estimates and provide new opportunities for STEM education and engagement, the team will create a cyberinfrastructure platform for the broad community to easily use computational tools and access data. Named Quakeworx, the science gateway will provide access to state-of-the-art methods for physics-based simulations and data analysis. It will host standardized pipelines for advanced simulations, facilitate data assimilation to inform and validate models on demand and enable machine-learning pattern recognition analyses on big datasets. 

“Quakeworx will accelerate innovation in earthquake science by enabling generation of diverse outputs such as seismicity, ground motion, fault network configuration, strain rates and topography that can be used to validate model results, improve ERFs and discover new patterns,” said Ben-Zion, director of SCEC and professor of Earth Sciences at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “We anticipate the project to be transformational in research of earthquakes and faults, while contributing to modernizing education and facilitating translation of results to society at large.”

Ben-Zion noted that the project will enable large-scale simulations of coupled evolution of earthquakes and faults for the first time. 

Elbanna and Gabriel, associate professor at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps, will lead the development and integration of several physics-based Next Generation Earthquake Simulators, including the current NSF Leadership-Class Computing Facility application SeisSol, utilizing high-performance computing for the project. They noted that the reduction in barriers to the use of computational methods in earthquake research will be achievable with the Quakeworx gateway that is designed to simplify access to state-of-the-art research software, compute and storage resources.

They will also lead together with Ben-Zion the development and integration of machine learning apps for the project, and they said further that Quakeworx will enable rapid immersion of students, post-doctoral fellows and early career scientists with state-of-the-art simulation and analysis tools. This democratization of access will aid in modernizing education and training in earthquake physics, computational modeling, software engineering and related fields.

The project will engage and mentor four postdoctoral fellows, six graduate students, 15 undergraduates and 10 professionals. 
Broader impacts of the project include:
•    Contributing to the development of a more resilient society to earthquakes, including working to provide critical information for emergency services and design of rapid follow-up scientific studies after large earthquakes;
•    Sharing of key results and services with the broad earthquake community including academic institutions, federal and state agencies, and the private sector, as well as translation of advanced computational research into publicly available scientific information; and
•    Enabling workforce development and community engagement via mentoring, training workshops and dissemination of results through conferences and scholarly articles.

According to the team, the project contributes to the national interest by supporting a more resilient society with improved capabilities for forecasting earthquakes and assessing seismic hazard, which are foundational for mitigation of seismic risk, contributing to STEM workforce development and facilitating translation of results to the society at large.

Photo on home page: Adıyaman, Turkey 02.09.2023,

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This story was published November 14, 2023.