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New earthquake modelling method could improve risk assessment

When it comes to preparing for earthquakes, it’s not only important to find ways to better predict seismic events but also to gauge the potential impacts to rural and urban areas in highly active earthquake-prone regions.  

Preparing for earthquakes based on potential risk factors is challenging for aid agencies who have limited resources at their disposal, especially when there are so many unknowns in risk reduction planning.

But now, researchers from Durham University have developed a new way to model this seismic risk in a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The new method developed by the researchers is called ensemble modeling and involves examining multiple earthquake scenarios to see if there are certain risks specific to one region or if the risks are common across the board regardless of magnitude or geographic location.

What’s different about ensemble modeling versus traditional earthquake risk modeling and projections is that helps put worst case scenarios in perspective and focuses on the impacts of multiple potential earthquake scenarios.

“Our method provides critical information on the likelihood, and probable scale, of impacts in future earthquakes,” said Tom Robinson, a member of the research team. “We hope this can help better inform how governments and aid agencies direct limited disaster mitigation resources, for example how they distribute resources geographically.”

The researchers used Nepal as a case study for their ensemble modeling in collaboration with the Nepal National Society of Earthquake Technology.

The team modeled fatalities from 90 different earthquake scenarios in Nepal to see if the impacts were region or magnitude specific.

“Our results also showed that the most at-risk districts are predominantly in rural western Nepal and that there are around 9.5 million Nepalese people who live in districts that are at a higher seismic risk than the capital, Kathmandu,” said Robinson. “Disaster risk reduction planning therefore needs to focus on rural, as well as urban, communities, as our modeling shows they are at higher risk.”

The researchers hope their new modeling method will help improve risk reduction planning for earthquake-prone regions and show where aid workers and policymakers need to focus their efforts.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Durham University

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