PSW: Earthquake Monitoring

“Recent Improvements in Global Earthquake Monitoring at the USGS”

William Leith
U.S. Geological Survey

Potomac Geophysical Society Meeting, February 18, 2010


Over the past decade, significant improvements have been achieved by the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners in the monitoring and reporting of earthquakes, both in terms of the timeliness and accuracy of the reporting of event parameters, and the rapid assessment of earthquake impacts.  Modern global, national and regional monitoring networks, comprising thousands of stations delivering data to processing centers in near-real-time, have significantly reduced the time required to determine event parameters, and have resulted in more accurate evaluation of earthquake sources.  Likewise, software has been developed to accurately estimate earthquake shaking, with or without seismic recordings from the source area. These data-constrained models enable a new generation of “situational awareness” products that help quantify the impact of an earthquake, well before reports are available from stricken area.  For domestic earthquakes, ground shaking maps (ShakeMaps) are now distributed within minutes of any significant event.  These maps are convolved with global population databases to estimate exposure levels (a proxy for damage), and with facility-specific information to predict damage probabilities.  The increasing value of the resulting information is clearly demonstrated by usage:  More than 150,000 subscribers now receive earthquake information as it is released; the USGS web site can experience more than 20,000 hits per second following a significant and newsworthy earthquake; and more and more users worldwide are expressing interest in tailored earthquake information products.  On the horizon is earthquake early warning, which can in optimum circumstances provide tens of seconds of warning before strong ground shaking, in areas with dense digital instrumentation and robust communication networks.

Dr. Leith is the Coordinator of the Advanced National Seismic System, an initiative of the U. S. Geological Survey to modernize and expand earthquake monitoring and reporting nation-wide. He also serves as Associate Program Coordinator for the Earthquake Hazards, Geomagnetic Hazards and Global Seismographic Network Programs at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Bill joined the USGS in 1986, after receiving a doctoral degree in seismology and geology from Columbia University, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as Chief of the USGS Special Geologic Studies Group from 1990-2000, and as Senior Technical Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance, from 2001-2003.

Please make RESERVATIONS with Joydeep Bhattacharyya via email or at 571-269-8432 before the Tuesday before each meeting by 5 PM (17:00). When making your reservation be sure to leave a number where you can be contacted. The dinner charge is $25, but you do not have to pay for the dinner to attend the talk. Reception is from 6:30 to 7:30 PM, dinner from 7:30 to 8:30, and talks are from 8:30 to 9:30. Non-members and guests are welcome.


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