Staying safe in the next megaquake

Tsunamis higher than houses; landslides engulfing entire villages; the ground, once solid, now swallowing buildings and cars.

These are some of the scarily common effects of earthquakes — but their combined impacts are rarely integrated into strategies to reduce earthquake risks.

The cascades of geological events following an earthquake can cause more damage, deaths and economic losses than the earthquake itself.

The 2018 Spotlight finalist Mega Quakes: Cascading Earthquake Hazards and Compounding Risks looks at ways to predict the risks and minimize the effects of future earthquakes and the secondary dangers that come with them. Using big data and advanced computing to model possible outcomes of earthquakes, the information will help governments and other sectors keep us safe when the next megaquake hits.

The field’s importance is already recognized at the international level by, for instance, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). And with more than 83,000 article views and almost 10,000 downloads, the Research Topic is clearly making its own seismic waves.

Dr Katsuichiro Goda, expert in earthquake-related multi-hazard risk management, and engineering colleagues Drs Tiziana Rossetto, Nobuhito Mori and Solomon Tesfamariam, explain why they launched this Research Topic, some of its outcomes, and how winning the 2018 Frontiers Spotlight Award would help further improve strategies to manage earthquake disasters.

Why was this Research Topic created?

Recent disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2011 Tohoku Japan earthquake and tsunami, the 2015 Gorkha Nepal earthquake and the 2017 Mexico earthquakes are vivid reminders of the threat megaquakes pose to people and cities.

“Our society and infrastructure are particularly at risk from the effects that follow earthquakes — which are sometimes more responsible than the earthquake itself for generating casualties and fatalities, disrupting socioeconomic activities and causing enormous economic loss across the world,” says Goda.

Yet, the combined secondary effects of an earthquake are rarely considered when planning earthquake management strategies. And while various approaches and tools have been developed to assess earthquake-related hazards, these are fragmented over a number of disciplines and the underlying assumptions are often different.

“Until now, earthquake hazards tended to be considered independently,” says Goda. “But to mitigate against all potential consequences of an earthquake disaster, we need integrated hazard assessment and risk management strategies.

“This requires new research addressing the multidisciplinary aspects of these cascading hazards and risks. The Research Topic provided a perfect platform where experts from different research fields could combine their knowledge.”

What type of research is included?

The Topic’s articles describe new methodologies for modelling the effects of multiple earthquake-induced risks happening at the same time — just as they could in reality.

“Examples include the interaction between ground shaking and tsunamis, between ground shaking and liquefaction or landslide, and between liquefaction and tsunamis,” says Goda.

This research is driven by advanced high-performance computing and expansion of big data sciences across numerous fields, which facilitate large-scale simulations and quantitative risk assessments.

One such simulator provides a future computational platform for evaluating earthquake impacts on cities in an active seismic region. “High-performance computing and a system of automated model construction enables a seamless simulation analyzing all processes of earthquake hazards and disasters, which involves more than 100 billion degree-of-freedoms,” Goda explains.

Another simulation-based procedure estimates the likelihood that seismic intensity and tsunamis would exceed given hazard levels. “The procedure is a first step toward an earthquake-tsunami multi-hazard performance-based engineering framework.”

What are some outcomes of this Research Topic?

The new assessment methods and tools published in the article collection will improve current practice by producing integrated multi-hazard maps rather than individual hazard-specific maps.

“This improved mapping will lead to improved public safety against earthquake-triggered natural disasters,” says Goda. “The new methods and tools will be particularly useful for governments, insurers and reinsurers,” he adds.

The new methods and tools will also serve as prototypes and benchmarks for the next generation of catastrophe models for earthquake disasters.

“Future research will be more comprehensive in quantifying the uncertainties associated with earthquake disaster impact forecasting, and will have significant influence on disaster risk management policies and actions at different levels — community, city, regional, national and international.”

Why should this Research Topic win the 2018 Spotlight Award?

“This research field has been in rapid expansion and will continue to grow in the future. Winning the Spotlight Award would be great recognition and endorsement of its importance,” says Goda.

“Our Research Topic is closely aligned with the global challenges of natural disaster risk reduction, disaster resilience and sustainability. So, if we win, we would want our conference to be affiliated with a relevant major international event.

“This would mean more attention from researchers and practitioners globally — so our research could really help keep everyone safer.”

About the Frontiers Spotlight Award

The annual Frontiers Spotlight Award supports emerging and important fields of research published as a Research Topic in Frontiers journals. The winning team of Topic Editors receives US$100,000 to organize an international scientific conference on the theme of their successful Research Topic. Learn more about the Award

About Frontiers Research Topics

Research Topics are peer-reviewed article collections published around specialized themes. They bring together leading researchers from different institutions, locations and fields of interest, who collaborate and contribute articles.

Published on Frontiers’ award-winning platform, Research Topics are fully open and accessible, and become highly visible collections of work, enhancing both the readership and citations of articles. Learn more about Research Topics

How to enter

Every Research Topic that closes within the award period and is completed with at least 10 articles, will be considered for the Spotlight Award. Shape your field and have the chance to organize your own conference – suggest your Research Topic today!

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Research Topic Editors

Katsuichiro Goda     University of Western Ontario, Canada

Katsuichiro Goda
University of Western Ontario, Canada

Tiziana Rossetto     University College London, UK

Tiziana Rossetto
University College London, UK

Nobuhito Mori     Kyoto University, Japan

Nobuhito Mori
Kyoto University, Japan

Solomon Tesfamariam     University of British Columbia, Canada

Solomon Tesfamariam
University of British Columbia, Canada