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Reducing risk where tectonic plates collide—U.S. Geological Survey subduction zone science plan

June 19, 2017

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information and tools to build resilience in communities exposed to subduction zone earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. Improving the application of USGS science to successfully reduce risk from these events relies on whole community efforts, with continuing partnerships among scientists and stakeholders, including researchers from universities, other government labs and private industry, land-use planners, engineers, policy-makers, emergency managers and responders, business owners, insurance providers, the media, and the general public.

Motivated by recent technological advances and increased awareness of our growing vulnerability to subduction-zone hazards, the USGS is uniquely positioned to take a major step forward in the science it conducts and products it provides, building on its tradition of using long-term monitoring and research to develop effective products for hazard mitigation. This science plan provides a blueprint both for prioritizing USGS science activities and for delineating USGS interests and potential participation in subduction zone science supported by its partners.

The activities in this plan address many USGS stakeholder needs:

  • High-fidelity tools and user-tailored information that facilitate increasingly more targeted, neighborhood-scale decisions to mitigate risks more cost-effectively and ensure post-event operability. Such tools may include maps, tables, and simulated earthquake ground-motion records conveying shaking intensity and frequency. These facilitate the prioritization of retrofitting of vulnerable infrastructure;
  • Information to guide local land-use and response planning to minimize development in likely hazardous zones (for example, databases, maps, and scenario documents to guide evacuation route planning in communities near volcanoes, along coastlines vulnerable to tsunamis, and built on landslide-prone terrain);
  • New tools to assess the potential for cascading hazards, such as landslides, tsunamis, coastal changes, and flooding caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions;
  • Geospatial models of permanent, widespread land- and sea-level changes that may occur in the immediate aftermath of great (M ≥8.0) subduction zone earthquakes;
  • Strong partnerships between scientists and public safety providers for effective decision making during periods of elevated hazard and risk;
  • Accurate forecasts of far-reaching hazards (for example, ash clouds, tsunamis) to avert catastrophes and unnecessary disruptions in air and sea transportation;
  • Aftershock forecasts to guide decisions about when and where to re-enter, repair, or rebuild buildings and infrastructure, for all types of subduction zone earthquakes.