RTD info logoMagazine on European Research

N 43 - November 2004
  FORECASTING EARTHQUAKES  -  The united science of seismology

The furies of the Earth can be awesome. Of the many destructive natural risks that humanity must face, earthquakes are perhaps the cruellest, due to the sudden and unpredictable nature of the violence they unleash. Although they are largely concentrated in known risk areas, there are a great many of them and some remain deceptively dormant for long periods. Paraseismic engineering techniques used in building construction are an important weapon against the destructive force of earthquakes. This protection saves many lives in the world’s more developed regions which can afford to build in this way. Elsewhere, earthquakes continue to sow death and destruction. What can science do in the face of such cataclysms unleashed from the very depths of the Earth?

An aid operation in Bingol, in the South-West of Anatolie (Turkey), where an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale occurred on 1 May 2003
An aid operation in Bingol, in the South-West of Anatolie (Turkey), where an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale occurred on 1 May 2003.
© Abc Agency / Gamma / Photo News
The first step is to know and understand the phenomenon. Seismology and volcanology are new disciplines. Formulated as an uncertain hypothesis in the first half of the 20th century, plate tectonics has only come into its own as a science in the past 40 years. Thanks to geophysical and geological research, the study of data transmitted by a worldwide network of hundreds of thousands of sensors, satellite observation, and the detailed analysis of every earthquake of any importance, a vast body of knowledge is gradually being built up.

Is it possible that science will, one day, achieve the ideal objective of forecasting earthquakes? Natural disasters are essentially random. It would seem presumptuous to expect researchers to become reliable forecasters of such events, even if, on some occasions, this has already proved possible. We are exposed to an array of natural and human-induced environmental risks. Science can be a means of ‘taming’ them to limit the damage they cause, but not of eradicating them.

Due to the extreme fear they instil, no doubt more than any other natural disaster, earthquakes have always aroused strong emotions and given rise to powerful expressions of international solidarity. Seismology is a science that is particularly oblivious to national borders. It is a field in which Europe contributes knowledge and expertise of the very highest level to the international effort to understand this devastating phenomenon. 

Earthquakes are the subject of many Union-backed research projects. Usually carried out by multidisciplinary teams, they look at various aspects of the phenomenon, such as prediction, scenarios, monitoring systems and architecture.

Current European projects

Lessloss – Risk mitigation for earthquakes and landslides

A multidisciplinary project covering geophysics, geotechnical and paraseismic engineering, town planning, civil protection, the socio-economic sciences, and information and communication technologies. Lessloss aims to promote a coordinated approach to the assessment of seismic risk, its environmental, urban and infrastructural impact, and prevention and protection strategies

EU contribution: €6 430 000 – Coordination: Michele Calvi, Università degli Studi di Pavia (IT) – gm.calvi@unipv.it   – www.lessloss.org [ http://www.lessloss.org/ ]

3HAZ Corinth
 – A multidisciplinary approach for measuring, modelling and predicting the triggering modes and their effects

This project follows on from the Corseis preparatory project and is specifically centred on the predictive and preventive analysis of seismic risks in the western part of the Corinthian rift.

EU contribution: €1 500 000  – Coordination: Dr Pascal Bernard, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (FR) – bernard@ipgp.jussieu.fr

 – Natural risks assessment harmonisation of procedures, quantification and information

NARAS is working to compile, synthesise, update and harmonise various European approaches to seismic risk assessment and mitigation scenarios and procedures. It is also undertaking actions to promote training and increased awareness in schools (Southern Italy, Greece and France).

EU contribution: €240 000 – Coordination: Paolo Gasparini, Università di Napoli Federico II (IT) – paolo.gasparini@na.infn.it

 – Frequent observation-driven realistic evaluation and simulation of interacting geophysical hazard triggers

Foresight is putting together a coordinated collection of data provided by geophysical monitoring systems in place or being deployed (terrestrial sensors and satellite observations). It is also integrating the results into an operational Geographical Information System (GIS). This project is a follow-up to RETINA (www.acri.fr/retina [ http://www.acri.fr/retina ])

EU contribution: €1 080 000 – Coordination: Olivia Lesne, ACRI-ST – Sophia Antipolis (FR) – oli@acri-st.frwww.acri-st.fr/foresight [ http://www.acri-st.fr/foresight ]

 - Novel optical devices and techniques for seismic activity detection and measurement

Optsdet is carrying out research on the reliability and precision of optical sensors (currently little used) for the detection of ground movement. 

EU contribution: €494 779  – Coordination: Dr Emil Smeu, University "Politehnica", Bucharest (RO) - smeu@physics.pub.ro

 - Centre of geophysical methods and observations for sustainable development

Geodev is a targeted project that aims to promote the recognition of the excellence of Polish institutes of geophysical research in the European Research Area.

EU contribution: €315 410  – Coordination: Zdzislaw Kaczmarek, Institute of Geophysics of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw (PL) - kaczmar@igf.edu.pl

 - Fault-rupture and strong-shaking effects on the safety of composite foundations and pipeline systems: quantification and reduction of seismic risk through the application of advanced geotechnical engineering techniques

Quaker aims to develop advanced geotechnical techniques, centred on interactions between ground movements, superstructures and the supporting foundations. 

EU contribution: €848 276 – Coordination: Michael Davies, University of Dundee (UK) – m.c.r.davies@dundee.ac.ukwww.dundee.ac.uk/civileng/quaker/partners.htm [ http://www.dundee.ac.uk/civileng/quaker/partners.htm ]

 - Development of innovative devices for seismic protection of petrochemical facilities

Indepth is developing specific paraseismic protection devices for the petrochemicals industry, an ultra-sensitive sector due to its potential impact on the environment.

EU contribution: €1 242 200   – Coordination: Fabrizio Gatti - Enel. Hydro (IT) – gatti.fabriziog@enel.ithttp://indepth.boku.ac.at/sitemap.php

 - Development of variable stiffness seismic isolators and vibration mitigation dampers based on magnetically controlled elastomers

VAST-IMAGE is conducting research on advanced technologies for elastomer and semi-active (of magnetically controlled stiffness) dampers/isolators. These devices are particularly relevant for the protection of strategic installations (hospitals, high-risk industries, cultural heritage, etc.) in the event of an earthquake.

EU contribution: €1 307 119 – Coordination: Dr Renzo Medeot - Maurer Söhne GmbH & Co. KG, Munich (DE) – medeot@mchn.maurer-soehne.de

 - Seismic hazard assessment, site effects and soil structure interaction studies in an instrumented basin

Euroseis-Risk will conduct a geophysical and geotechnical study of site effects and interactions between structures and soils, based on real tests at the Euroseis (EL) testing site.

EU contribution: €1 465 968 – Coordination: Professor Kyriazis Pitilakis - Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (EL) – pitilakis@evripos.civil.auth.grhttp://euroseis.civil.auth.gr/index.htm

Completed European projects

RISK-UE – An advanced approach to earthquake risk scenarios with applications in different European towns

RISK-UE is carrying out an evaluation of earthquake risk, an inventory and typology of principal weaknesses in the construction field (especially for historical heritage sites) and options for risk reduction in seven European towns: Barcelona (ES), Nice (FR), Catania (IT), Bucharest (RO), Sofia (BG), Bitola (Macedonia), Thessaloniki (EL).

EU contribution: €1 625 378 – Coordination: Pierre Mouroux, BRGM, Orléans (FR) – p.mouroux@brgm.frwww.risk-ue.net/ [ http://www.risk-ue.net/ ]

 – Low risk and totally recyclable structural buildings

Safefloor is carrying out research to lighten and simplify the dismantling of construction elements, in particular to accelerate rescue operations in the event of building collapse.

EU contribution: €1 553 740.00 – Coordination: Juan Manuel Mieres, Necso Entrecanales Cubiertas, Madrid (ES) –jmieres@nesco.es

 - Towards practical, real-time estimation of spatial aftershock probabilities: a feasibility study in earthquake hazard

Presap is investigating the possibility of modelling the aftershocks that can strike a devastated zone on the basis of a study of the seismic waves from the initial shock.

EU contribution: €495 100 – Coordination: John McCloskey, University of Ulster (UK) - j.mccloskey@ulst.ac.uk

 - Age-variant seismic structural reliability of existing underground water pipelines

Seislines is evaluating the condition and earthquake resistance capacity of existing water pipeline infrastructures and the development of an expert decision-support system for renovating networks in high-risk zones.

EU contribution: €651 700  – Coordination: Dimitris Kalles, Computer Technology Institute – Patras (EL) – kalles@cti.gr

 - Strands prestressing for internal damping of earthquake response

Spider is conducting paraseismic research and performance tests on the coupling system for energy dampening/dissipating systems using cables. These devices are intended to provide paraseismic improvements for existing buildings (schools, hospitals, etc.).   

EU contribution: €295 700 – Coordination: Mouloud Behloul, Bouygues Travaux Publics, Saint-Quentin en Yvelines (FR) – m.behloul@bouygues-construction.com