Going Global

by Sebastian Benthall

I am attending the Global Earthquake Model annual outreach meeting this week. The ambition of the project–a global computational engine for earthquake hazard, risk, and economic impact–is awe-inspiring. The people attempting it are extraordinarily daring.

One anecdote from this morning struck me as a potent illustration of why and how GEM will is so important. Ross Stein admitted candidly that currently, seismology is “the best racket in town,” because on a regional level there is no way to test their scientific predictions. A typical result might ascribe a 30% chance of an earthquake striking an area within a fifty year period. By the time the data has been collected, the scientist has retired.

Not so, argues Stein, with a global earthquake model. A model associating strain on fault lines (for example) with seismic hazards that has global scope will be tested whenever and wherever an earthquake strikes. So a global model opens up the scientific inquiry on top of allowing for the dissemination of results.

This is just one effect of one facet of GEM’s anticipated work. I’m already impressed.