A new computer model which can simulate the entire chain of events triggered by offshore earthquakes signals an important step in reducing deaths and damage to property in the event of natural disasters.

The system was developed by researchers at the University of Bristol and University College London (UCL) as part of the multinational CRUST (Cascading Risk and Uncertainty Assessment of Earthquake Shaking and Tsunami) project. The research is backed by £501,000 of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The model has been designed for any part of the world with particular vulnerability to undersea subduction earthquakes – a phenomenon where one tectonic plate is forced beneath another. Such quakes have been recorded in Japan, New Zealand, the Pacific Northwest (U.S. and Canada), Mexico, Chile and Indonesia.

The disaster simulation tool is able to project every aspect and consequence of an earthquake, including tsunamis, aftershocks, and landslides.

According to a University of Bristol press release, the simulator generates a comprehensive, accurate map of all the potential hazard zones and demonstrates how these are linked to one another.

The research team suggests that the technology could be used across various disaster-related use cases, such as supporting emergency planning, improving evacuation procedures, helping engineers to more accurately calculate building resiliency, and helping insurance firms to produce more realistic financial risk analysis.

Previous earthquake risk modelling has involved different methods, data and assumptions and has differed from one region to the next. The researchers explained how a lack of integration and the lack of a standard approach limited the value of these models.

‘For the first time ever, we’ve brought genuine joined-up thinking to the whole issue of offshore giant subduction earthquakes and their links to tsunamis, aftershocks and landslides, taking account of how all of these are linked and how one type of event leads, or ‘cascades’, into another,’ noted Dr Katsu Goda, a senior lecturer in Civil Engineering at the University of Bristol.

The CRUST team will continue to build on refining the model’s predictive capabilities until the project closes in September this year.

Goda added: ‘The magnitude 9 Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami waves that hit the east coast of Japan on 11 March, 2011 caused around 19,000 deaths plus economic damage estimated at $300 billion. We hope our simulation tool will secure wide rollout around the world and will be used to inform decision-making and boost resilience to these frequently devastating events.’

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