Earthquake Center wins $6.1 million

The National Science Foundation grant will create new research possibilities.

The Southern California Earthquake Center will utilize the National Science Foundation grant to expand their earthquake modeling programs. (Brittany Shaw / Daily Trojan)

The USC-based Southern California Earthquake Center is expanding its reach to cover the entire state of California after receiving a $6.1 million National Science Foundation grant. 

Since its inception in 1991, SCEC has led earthquake research, education and outreach in Southern California. The Center, which will be renamed the Statewide California Earthquake Center, is responsible for various outreach programs that communicate earthquake safety guidance to the public, including the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill that USC participates in every October. SCEC also brings together scientists and researchers at more than 90 universities worldwide to study the fundamental basics of earthquakes, utilizing the San Andreas Fault as a natural laboratory to conduct studies on earthquake processes.

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With the NSF grant, SCEC will expand its natural laboratory to include Central and Northern California. In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Mark Benthien, the director for communication, education and outreach at SCEC, spoke excitedly about the expansion.

“[SCEC] is a lot about bringing people together, and since 1991, we’ve focused on the Southern California area. This new funding is going to expand that collaboration statewide and allow for a broader group of people to work together and bring together new ideas to understand earthquake hazards,” Benthien said.

Benthien said the expansion would allow for a more holistic understanding of earthquakes by facilitating better connection and collaboration between Northern and Southern California. 

“It’s kind of like if you had some mechanics working on a car, and some of the mechanics were working on the back of the car and [the others] on the front of the car. If you’ve got them [working] together, maybe you would fix the car better, right?” Benthien said.

Benthien also said the grant enables SCEC to design more elaborate projects for studying earthquakes, such as community models that cover the entirety of California.

“A community model is a model of something about the Earth, in this case, earthquakes, that involves a broad community contributing to its creation,” Benthien said. “It’s the community working together [to create] that model, and we’ve already been starting to do that on a statewide basis.”

The NSF Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure also awarded a $2.5 million grant to SCEC, along with Scripps Institute of Oceanograohy at the University of San Diego, the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to develop an earthquake simulation project called Quakeworx. 

According to a document shared by Benthien to the Daily Trojan, Quakeworx is “an innovative cyberinfrastructure gateway for accelerating innovation of next-generation earthquake simulations.”

Quakeworx uses computers to conduct their simulations, a method SCEC has significant experience in.

“[SCEC] is one of the nation’s largest users of supercomputers for earth sciences, to study and model all things [related to] earthquakes, and all of this is going to be possible in a new, broader way,” Benthien said.

Continuing to support earthquake research is crucial in minimizing potential damages, especially in California where earthquakes are a frequent occurrence. 

“Because of all that we have in California, these potential earthquakes [can cause] a lot of damage. We could have a lot of business loss, building damage, freeway damage and everything else,” Benthien said. “The more we can understand what may happen, the better we can be prepared for them.”

Continued support of earthquake research will help prevent buildings from being built directly on top of faults, Benthien said. Even if buildings are built on faults, engineers can create buildings that better withstand shaking if they are well-informed about earthquakes.

Students interested in earthquake research will be able to participate in new internships, mentoring and training opportunities hosted by SCEC that are being made possible through the NSF grant.

Akash Thakkar, a first-year Ph.D. student studying economics, said he was excited by the opportunities for students that the additional grant funding would provide.

“[Additional funding] can give more research opportunities to students if they’re interested in research. The effects of research can lead to improvements in campus safety if there is an earthquake,”  Thakkar said.

Jennifer Kim, a freshman majoring in business administration, believes that more earthquake research would lead to better safety. 

“[Earthquakes] happen very often, and I feel investing towards more research would be better,” Kim said.

Benthien said these programs are important in supporting students and early-career scientists interested in STEM fields, as well as ensuring that they stay in science, technology, engineering and math and earthquake research throughout their careers. 

“The next generation is going to take what’s being done now and continue to improve it. Their values, their perspectives, and their ways of thinking are going to help add to the collective effort,” Benthien said.

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