Leveraging geodetic data to reduce losses from earthquakes

Open-File Report 2018-1037




Seismic hazard assessments that are based on a variety of data and the best available science, coupled with rapid synthesis of real-time information from continuous monitoring networks to guide post-earthquake response, form a solid foundation for effective earthquake loss reduction. With this in mind, the Earthquake Hazards Program (EHP) of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Natural Hazards Mission Area (NHMA) engages in a variety of undertakings, both established and emergent, in order to provide high quality products that enable stakeholders to take action in advance of and in response to earthquakes. Examples include the National Seismic Hazard Model (NSHM), development of tools for improved situational awareness such as earthquake early warning (EEW) and operational earthquake forecasting (OEF), research about induced seismicity, and new efforts to advance comprehensive subduction zone science and monitoring. Geodetic observations provide unique and complementary information directly relevant to advancing many aspects of these efforts (fig. 1). EHP scientists have long leveraged geodetic data for a range of influential studies, and they continue to develop innovative observation and analysis methods that push the boundaries of the field of geodesy as applied to natural hazards research. Given the ongoing, rapid improvement in availability, variety, and precision of geodetic measurements, considering ways to fully utilize this observational resource for earthquake loss reduction is timely and essential. This report presents strategies, and the underlying scientific rationale, by which the EHP could achieve the following outcomes:

  1. The EHP is an authoritative source for the interpretation of geodetic data and its use for earthquake loss reduction throughout the United States and its territories.
  2. The USGS consistently provides timely, high quality geodetic data to stakeholders.
  3. Significant earthquakes are better characterized by incorporating geodetic data into USGS event response products and by expanded use of geodetic imaging data to assess fault rupture and source parameters.
  4. Uncertainties in the NSHM, and in regional earthquake models, are reduced by fully incorporating geodetic data into earthquake probability calculations.
  5. Geodetic networks and data are integrated into the operations and earthquake information products of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS).
  6. Earthquake early warnings are improved by more rapidly assessing ground displacement and the dynamic faulting process for the largest earthquakes using real-time geodetic data.
  7. Methodology for probabilistic earthquake forecasting is refined by including geodetic data when calculating evolving moment release during aftershock sequences and by better understanding the implications of transient deformation for earthquake likelihood.

A geodesy program that encompasses a balanced mix of activities to sustain missioncritical capabilities, grows new competencies through the continuum of fundamental to applied research, and ensures sufficient resources for these endeavors provides a foundation by which the EHP can be a leader in the application of geodesy to earthquake science. With this in mind the following objectives provide a framework to guide EHP efforts:

  • Fully utilize geodetic information to improve key products, such as the NSHM and EEW, and to address new ventures like the USGS Subduction Zone Science Plan.
  • Expand the variety, accuracy, and timeliness of post-earthquake information products, such as PAGER (Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response), through incorporation of geodetic observations.
  • Determine if geodetic measurements of transient deformation can significantly improve estimates of earthquake probability.
  • Maintain an observational strategy aligned with the target outcomes of this document that includes continuous monitoring, recording of ephemeral observations, focused data collection for use in research, and application-driven data processing and analysis systems.
  • Collaborate on research, development, and operation of affordable, high-precision seafloor geodetic methods that improve earthquake forecasting and event response.
  • Advance computational techniques and instrumentation to enable use of strategies like repeat-pass imagery and low-cost geodetic sensors for earthquake response, monitoring, and research.
  • Engage stakeholders and collaborate with partner institutions to foster operational and research objectives and to safeguard the continued health of geodetic infrastructure upon which we mutually depend.

Maintaining a vibrant internal research program provides the foundation by which the EHP can remain an effective and trusted source for earthquake science. Exploiting abundant new data sources, evaluating and assimilating the latest science, and pursuing novel avenues of investigation are means to fulfilling the EHP’s core responsibilities and realizing the important scientific advances envisioned by its scientists. Central to the success of such a research program is engaging personnel with a breadth of competencies and a willingness and ability to adapt these to the program’s evolving priorities, enabling current staff to expand their skills and responsibilities, and planning holistically to meet shared workforce needs.

In parallel, collaboration with external partners to support scientific investigations that complement ongoing internal research enables the EHP to strengthen earthquake information products by incorporating alternative perspectives and approaches and to study topics and geographic regions that cannot be adequately covered internally.

With commensurate support from technical staff who possess diverse skills, including engineering, information technology, and proficiency in quantitative analysis combined with basic geophysical knowledge, the EHP can achieve the geodetic outcomes identified in this document.

Suggested Citation

Murray, J.R., Roeloffs, E.A., Brooks, B.A., Langbein, J., Leith, W., Minson, S.E., Svarc, J., and Thatcher, W., 2018, Leveraging geodetic data to reduce losses from earthquakes: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1037, 34 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Leveraging geodetic data to reduce losses from earthquakes
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Earthquake Science Center
vi, 34 p.
Online Only (Y/N):