Geoscientists Take Part in Frontera Supercomputer

UC Davis scientists are taking part in a project to build the new “Frontera” supercomputer at the University of Texas at Austin. Funded by a $60 million grant from the National Science Foundation announced last week, Frontera will be the fastest computer at any U.S. university and among the most powerful in the world.

Global simulation of Earth’s mantle convection by the NSF-funded Stampede supercomputer at UT Austin. Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics, headquartered at UC Davis, is developing software for Earth sciences that will run on the new Frontera system. [Courtesy of ICES, UT Austin]

Bio-Inspired Natural Hazards Design-a-Thon is April 28

Teams of undergraduate engineers from UC Davis and nearby colleges and universities will be pulling an all-nighter this weekend, working on using the inspiration or processes of nature to prevent or mitigate natural hazards.

The Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics Design-a-thon runs from 11 a.m. Saturday, April 28 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 29 in room 1065, Kemper Hall.

Registration is still open: click here

Student teams will select a natural hazard such as fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami or hurricane, and come up with an engineering solution that is affordable, sustainable, has minimal environmental impact and is equitable for all. There will be cash prizes for first, second and third places.

How Useful Are Earthquake Early Warning Systems?

Mexico’s earthquake early warning system may have helped save lives in the Sept. 19 earthquake. Sirens in Mexico City sounded seconds before the earthquake struck the city, giving a brief window to shut down vital infrastructure and evacuate buildings. There was more warning, about 90 seconds, before the larger earthquake that occurred off the coast of Mexico Sept. 8.

ShakeAlert is an Earthquake Early Warning system for the US West Coast. It is being developed by the US Geological Survey and a consortium of universities.

A similar system has been tested for the U.S. West Coast including California and is expected to begin limited public operation in 2018.

New Technique Provides Earthquake Risk for Major Cities Worldwide

By Larry O’Hanlon

Scientists have developed snapshots of the likelihood of major earthquakes occurring in megacities around the world using a new statistical approach for estimating earthquake risk. The work will be presented today, May 22 at the joint meeting of the Japan Geoscience Union and the American Geophysical Union in Chiba, Japan.

A “nowcast” for Tokyo. The red thermometer at right shows how far along the Tokyo region is in its cycle of smaller quakes between quakes of at least 6.5 magnitude. (John Rundle, UC Davis)

Grant for natural hazards research at UC Davis centrifuge

The National Science Foundation will award almost $5 million over five years to UC Davis to include the large earthquake-simulating centrifuge at the Center for Geotechnical Modeling as part of the new Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure program.

The geotechnical centrifuge at UC Davis is the largest of its kind in the world. It is used for scale model experiments of the effect of earthquakes on soils and buildings.

The geotechnical centrifuge at UC Davis is the largest of its kind in the world. It is used for scale model experiments on the effect of earthquakes on soils and buildings.

Bio-shock resistant: New center to apply biology to earthquakes, civil engineering

Taking lessons from nature and biology into civil engineering is the goal of the new Center for Bio-inspired and Bio-mediated Geotechnics, including the University of California, Davis, Arizona State University, New Mexico State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and funded with a five-year, $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The center’s director will be Edward Kavazanjian, a professor of civil engineering and senior scientist at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. The UC Davis team will be headed by Jason DeJong, professor of geotechnical engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Oaxaca earthquake, one day later

A major earthquake struck Mexico just after 11 a.m. Pacific Time yesterday. Initial reports put the magnitude at 7.9 and relatively close to the surface, which would be a very serious earthquake. However, news reports from Mexico City and then other cities including Oaxaca and Acapulco showed relatively minor damage and few casualties, and the US Geological Survey later downgraded the magnitude to 7.4.

“It’s a good example of the fog of information after an event like this,” said UC Davis geologist Michael Oskin. “It went from 7.9, shallow (10km) and thus a high destructive potential to a 7.4, deep (20 km or deeper, I suspect) and unsurprising event on the subduction interface.”

New approaches to earthquake forecasting

In this interview with Thompson Reuters ScienceWatch, UC Davis interdisciplinary professor John Rundle talks about the new approaches that he and his collaborators have developed to understanding earthquakes over the past 20 years or so. Rather than treating them as elastic rebound movements, Rundle began considering earthquakes as a phase transition — a term physicists use to talk about systems that change abruptly from one state to another.

Rundle and colleagues have now set up a website,, to make earthquake forecasts available to the public.

Retaining walls shaken in test, but not broken

UC Davis civil engineering professor Dawn Cheng recently carried out a series of tests at UC San Diego’s Englekirk Structural Engineering Center. The center has the largest outdoor shake table in the world — meaning that you can build a structure on it then shake it to simulate an earthquake.

Retaining wall on shake tableCheng was carrying out the first tests on retaining walls, used for example to hold back soil from freeways or support bridge abutments across the state. There are thousands of miles of such walls across California, but surprisingly their behavior in earthquakes is not well understood. The tests, which were funded by the California Department of Transportation, will ensure that new retaining walls are designed to high seismic standards.

Virtual Reality demos at AGU

If you are among the 16,000 people attending the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco this week, scientists from the UC VR imageDavis KeckCAVES facility will be running several demonstrations of their interactive virtual reality technology. The demonstrations will be run on a laptop and displayed on a large monitor, so will not have the full immersive, 3-D experience of the KeckCAVES lab itself, but they will use real data in real time and show how scientists can use virtual reality to work with their data.