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20-23. Forging next generation earthquake forecast models


Closing Date: January 6, 2022

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.



A critical element of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program (EHP) is the assessment of seismic hazard and risk, and one of the two main modeling components in this endeavor is an earthquake rupture forecast, which gives the probability of all possible damaging events in a region and for a specified timespan.  The official models developed by the USGS influence not only building codes and earthquake insurance rates, but also other flagship products such as operational earthquake forecasting (real-time info on possibly triggered events), earthquake planning scenarios, and earthquake early warning.

Earthquake forecast model development is a system-level, multidisciplinary problem in that a broad range of information can be brought to bear (from seismology, geology, geodesy, earthquake physics, and even engineering in terms of ensuring usefulness).  Another challenge is the paucity of data needed to test competing hypotheses at the large magnitudes that dominate hazard and risk, which has two important manifestations: 1) the need for adequate representation of so-called epistemic uncertainties (which reflect our lack of knowledge or understanding of the system); and 2) the need for more physics-based approaches (to augment the limited observations).  Model verification and validation is obviously important, but so too is model valuation (because all models are approximate, at best, and it’s possible that a cruder model could be more useful depending on the application). Also important is having a robust computational/IT infrastructure, especially with respect to reproducibility.

Two overarching goals for future earthquake forecasts are a better representation of multi-fault ruptures and time-dependent behavior (e.g., spatiotemporal clustering), both of which would benefit from more physics-based approaches.  The multidisciplinary nature of earthquake rupture forecast development means there are a wide variety of ways the incumbent could contribute, with some of the more important ones including:

  • Development of geologic, geodetic, and/or statistical-seismology model components.
  • Improvement in the representation of multi-fault ruptures.
  • Development of improved time-dependent components to represent elastic rebound, spatiotemporal clustering, induced seismicity, super cycles, and/or mode switching.
  • Design and implementation of a system-level model framework (for putting the pieces together in a flexible, plug-and-play environment).
  • Explore synergies and applications related to earthquake early warning (e.g., using an earthquake forecast as a prior distribution for what a growing event might become)
  • Develop and implement model verification, validation, and valuation protocols.  The valuation element would involve advanced risk modeling in support of situational awareness and actionable intelligence, and would require engagement with stakeholders in terms of satisfying their emerging needs.
  • Contribute to the deployment of a USGS operational earthquake forecasting capability.
  • Contribute to the computational/IT infrastructure.

Of particular interest is the development of multi-cycle physics-based simulators (, as these are perhaps our best long-term hope for addressing multi-fault ruptures and time dependencies; the development of such models is currently lacking at the USGS.  Contributions could be in the form of model development, using machine learning to infer implied predictability from simulations, or determining which inferences are robust given inevitable assumptions, approximations, and uncertainties.

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas.

Proposed Duty Station:  Golden, Colorado; Moffett Field, California; or Pasadena, California

Areas of PhD: Geophysics, seismology, geology, earthquake engineering, computer science, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet the qualifications for one of the following: Research GeophysicistResearch Geologist, Research Geodesist, Research Physicist, Research Engineer, Research Computer Scientist, Research Statistician.

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact:  Megan Agy, 303-236-9584,