Hazard forecasting in real time: from controlled laboratory tests to volcanoes and earthquakes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Geosciences


The inherent predictability of brittle failure events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions is important, unknown, and much debated. We will establish techniques to determine the forecasting power for brittle failure in the ideal case of controlled laboratory tests, using output data from a series of experiments already funded by NERC to determine the rheology of rocks under slow deformation. We will use recent developments in informatics to enable a capability for verifiably forecasting failure in prospective mode, i.e. before it has occurred. This is important because the benefit of hindsight provides a significant positive bias in evaluating the predictability in retrospective tests. With this experience, we will then apply similar techniques to natural systems to quantify the loss of predictability in an uncontrolled, more complex system at greater spatial and temporal scales. A major technical aim is to develop an open-access, automated, web-based platform for real-time data collation, analysis and information exchange, enabling competing physical hypotheses and statistical methods to be tested and developed in fully prospective mode in an open, testable environment comparable, say, to daily weather forecasts. This will require applying state-of-the art statistical methods to the data in a user-friendly, high-performance computing environment, including formal quantification of model uncertainties and their effect on forecast consistency and quality. To ensure that the resulting techniques are practicable and formally provide value for use in hazard planning and risk mitigation, they will be developed in collaboration with recent global earthquake forecasting initiatives, monitoring observatories and civil defence agencies responsible for issuing alerts on seismic and volcanic events. The results will improve our understanding of the physical processes controlling material failure in the laboratory and in the Earth, and will provide a sustainable, experience-based tool for rigorous and fully-probabilistic forecasting of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.


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Description This project explored the limits of predictability of catastrophic failure in rocks. In order to do this we developed a new Science Gateway for real-time data assimilation, linking laboratory tests or data streamed direct from volcano observatories to a 'live' forecasting portal. We used synthetic data to demonstrate and quantify the varying quality of forecasting power as failure is approached, and applied the results retrospectively to laboratory tests and data from volcanic observatories. The results show not just the best fit model at a given time, but also quantify the uncertainties and how they change with time. The science gateway was applied to one laboratory test and tested successfully on a new rig designed for especially slow deformation rates.
Exploitation Route We are currently exploring options of working more closely with volcano observatories to develop and apply the technology as part of the mix in developing and improving the current capability in operational forecasting. Real-time probabilistic forecasting of failure using our techniques can also be applied in principle to the monitoring the integrity of engineering structures, to events induced by subsurface engineering, to slope instability, and (with lower confidence) to natural earthquakes.
Sectors Construction,Energy,Environment

Description Independent reviewer for NAM - the operators of the Groningen Gas field in the Netherlands
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Changes in operational practice in terms of production rates to minimise risk of induced seismicity. My independent advice was a small but significant part in the long chain to this decision (ultimately done by the Dutch Government), but ensured the estimates of seismic hazard used in making this decision were recognised best practice.
URL https://www.reuters.com/article/netherlands-groningen/update-1-dutch-pm-says-to-reduce-groningen-gas...
Title Automated estimation of felt area and centroid epicentre for historical earthquakes 
Description Software 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Re-evaluation of the magnitudes of past historical earthquakes in China. Ultimately this will impact on probabilistic seismic hazard maps in China, and help build resilience to future earthquakes. 
Description Invited presentation on Earthquake forecasting to the Chinese Earthquake Authority in Beijing. This is the main organisation charged with assessing seismic hazard in China. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited presentation on Earthquake forecasting to the Chinese Earthquake Authority in Beijing to an audience of around 30. This is the main organisation charged with assessing seismic hazard in China. This generated a debate on the uncertainties in time-independent and time-dependent seismic hazard maps.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019