Mendenhall Research Fellowship Program

18-3. Improving estimates of coseismic ground failure from recent earthquakes


Closing Date: January 6, 2020

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.


This research opportunity seeks to understand the climatic, geologic, geomorphic, and seismologic factors that contribute to variations in observed ground-failure intensity, distribution, and consequences. Observations of ground failure (landslides and liquefaction) following the recent M7.1 Anchorage, AK and M7.1 Ridgecrest, CA earthquakes highlight existing challenges and limitations in ground-failure prediction, where estimates of ground-failure distributions and intensity are much larger than observed, whereas smaller recent earthquakes have produced widespread and highly destructive ground failures (e.g., M6.6 Eastern Iburi, Japan, Kayen and others, 2019). Given the potential severity of coseismic ground-failure consequences, and large uncertainty in their occurrence, better constraints on the factors contributing to coseismic ground-failure susceptibility and triggering are needed to inform risk-based decision making and improve the safety of exposed populations.

In addition to data from recent earthquakes described above, earthquake-triggered landslide inventories from around the world have been compiled and characterized recently, which provides a rich data set for analysis (Schmitt and others, 2017; Tanyaş and others, 2017). The recently released USGS Ground Failure product also has provided model predictions for several recent earthquakes; this facilitates comparison of model predictions and landslide distributions.  These data and models provide the tools needed to better understand the factors leading to landslide triggering and to refine predictive capabilities.

Research proposals are encouraged from a wide range of scientific and engineering perspectives on topics that contribute to understanding and modeling coseismic ground-failure susceptibility and hazard. Research proposal topics include, but are not limited to the following themes:

  • Can the Ridgecrest, CA, Anchorage, AK, and other ‘landslide-poor’ earthquakes be modeled in a consistent framework with Northridge, CA, and other ‘landslide-rich’ earthquakes? Can regions that produce disproportionately more, or fewer, landslides for a given shaking intensity be identified a priori by utilizing geomorphic, geologic, environmental, or other information? 
  • Why do subduction-zone and intraslab earthquakes trigger so few landslides? What aspects of ground motion, environment, and tectonic setting drive the disproportionate ‘lack’ of ground failure following these earthquakes compared to similar intensity or magnitude crustal events? Are there differences in the type and consequences of ground failure triggered by subduction, intraslab, and crustal earthquakes?

Results from this research opportunity should contribute to an improved coseismic ground-failure analysis framework that can discriminate between landslide-rich (e.g., Northridge, CA; Wenchuan, China; Eastern Iburi, Japan) and landslide-poor (e.g., Landers, CA; Ridgecrest, CA; Anchorage, AK; Tohoku, Japan) earthquakes. Researchers are encouraged to leverage recent ground-failure observations from Ridgecrest and Anchorage, as well as existing global coseismic ground-failure inventories as part of their proposed work. 

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


Kayen, Robert; Wham, Brad; Grant, Alex; Atsushi,Mikam; Anderson ,Donal;  Zimmaro, Paolo; Wang, Pengfei; Tsai, Yi Tyan; Bachhuber, Jeff; Madugo, Chris; Sun, Joseph; Hitchcock,Chris;  and Motto, Matthew, 2019, Seismological, Geological, and Geotechnical Engineering Aspects of the 2018 MW 6.6 Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake: Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) Association, 105 p.,

 Schmitt, R.G., Tanyaş, Hakan, Nowicki Jessee, M.A., Zhu, Jing, Biegel, K.M., Allstadt, K.E., Jibson, R.W., Thompson, E.M., van Westen, C.J., Sato, H.P., Wald, D.J., Godt, J.W., Gorum, T., Xu, C., Rathje, E.M., Knudsen, K.L., 2017, An open repository of earthquake-triggered ground-failure inventories: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 1064, 17 p.,

Tanyaş, Hakan, van Westen, C.J, Allstadt, K.E., Nowicki-Jessee, M.A., Gorum, Tolga., Jibson, R.W., Godt, J.W., Sato, H.P., Schmidt, R.G., Marc, Odin, and Hovius, Niels, 2017, Presentation and analysis of a world-wide database of earthquake-induced landslide inventories: Journal of Geophysical Research—Earth Surface, v. 122, p. 1991-2015,

Proposed Duty Station: Moffett Field, CA 

Areas of Ph.D.: Geology, geomorphology, engineering geology, geotechnical engineering, 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: Research Geologist, Research Civil Engineer

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles might 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: Audrey Tsujita, 916-278-9395,



alex grant

Research Civil Engineer
Earthquake Science Center
Phone: 650-329-5205

Jonathan P Perkins

Research Geologist
Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Phone: 650-439-2828

Randall W Jibson

Research Geologist
Geologic Hazards Science Center
Phone: 303-273-8577