USGS identifier

Science Goals

Goal 2--Provide short-term prediction of geologic disasters and rapidly characterize their effects

In addition to providing quantitative assessments of geologic hazards and long-term probabilistic forecasts for planning purposes (Goal 1), the GD also provides information critical to disaster response for Federal and local emergency management agencies in the short term before, during, and after a natural disaster strikes. The GD will focus on developing and implementing methods for predicting the onset of hazardous geologic events, evaluating the progress of natural disasters while they are occurring (that is, realtime warnings), and communicating timely information on the likely location and severity of damage and possible geological and biological consequences. These disasters include earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods, magnetic storms, tsunamis, hurricanes, and dust storms.

In contrast to probabilistic hazard forecasts, which are derived from information on the severity and frequency of past activity, short-term predictions generally are based on observations of physical parameters monitored in the hours to days preceding an impending disaster. Significant losses to life and property can be diminished by developing and implementing methods to predict disaster onset. For example, the international leadership provided by the GD in the short-term prediction of volcanic activity and its likely geologic effects has led to timely evacuation of people and safeguarding of valuable equipment (see Highlight 7). Although earthquake prediction remains an important societal goal, focused research on the physics of faulting is needed to determine if such prediction is possible and, if so, how it might be accomplished. Realtime information on the progress and likely geologic consequences of a disaster can be used to assist onsite emergency response and disaster mitigation and to avert further catastrophe. Finally, the GD will work with State and local colleagues to provide full documentation of the geological and biological effects of these disasters in their immediate aftermath and release that information in a timely fashion. This documentation will provide guidance for future land-use decisions and provide feedback to improve the natural hazard assessments in Goal 1. In addition, the GD can apply its disaster-response capabilities to monitoring the progress and ultimate geological and biological effects of certain manmade catastrophes, such as oil spills, dam collapses, and forest fires.


Predisaster scenarios.
In collaboration with USGS divisions and other agencies, the GD will define and quantify likely event scenarios (by using vulnerability maps and deterministic hazard assessments developed in Goal 1), establish alert levels, and provide appropriate warnings for volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, magnetic storms, and other geologic disasters. For example, rainfall intensity data, land cover and soil-property data, and DEM's will be used to create landslide scenarios and to determine alert and warning levels.

Mid-disaster estimates.
During natural disasters, the GD will rapidly estimate the extent and magnitude of destruction and potential collateral hazards. For example, during and shortly after large earthquakes, the GD will define the areas where the most severe ground shaking occurred in order to guide post-earthquake emergency response. During volcanic activity, the GD will define potential risk zones for post-eruption mudflows and landslides. During geomagnetic storms (which can cause severe disruption of power transmission and communication networks), the GD will provide realtime information on the intensity and distribution of magnetic disturbances to appropriate government and industry representatives.

Postdisaster documentation.
The GD will prepare maps and other documentation of the geological, hydrological, and biological effects of natural disasters in a timely fashion to aid in recovery efforts and to provide ground truth needed for improvement of hazard assessments conducted under Goal 1. For example, the GD will produce forecasts of earthquake aftershocks or post-eruption volcanic scenarios and maps of the extents of storm surge and erosion due to hurricanes and tsunamis.

Strategic Actions

Significantly expand and upgrade monitoring capabilities.
This monitoring capability includes networks of broadband seismic sensors to record earthquake ground motion and volcanic signals, continuous Global Positioning System (GPS) stations, and prototype acoustic flow meter arrays to detect volcanic mudflows. The GD will ensure the continuity of monitoring and transmission capabilities during disasters.

Create Rapid Response Teams.
The GD will work with other USGS divisions and State and local governments to create Rapid Response Teams to assess the geological, hydrological, and biological effects of natural disasters. The GD will also develop plans to ensure rapid response by GD scientists to selected natural disasters and will define alert levels and rehearse necessary procedures.

Develop and implement strategies to use innovative remote-sensing technologies.
These strategies include exploiting classified data for monitoring and analysis of the geologic precursors and effects of natural disasters and developing indicators to quickly define damage zones and regions at risk. For example, by using Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) for realtime strain and erosion monitoring and GPS network data, GD scientists can evaluate precursory phenomena to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and document the aftereffects of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods.

Focus research on the fundamental physical processes that result in or occur during natural disasters.
This research will enhance predictive abilities and emergency response. Specific topics and processes that need to be investigated include coastal erosion, earthquake generation and recurrence, magma ascent and volcanic eruption, landslides, and sediment transport during floods and hurricanes.

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Last updated 04.08.98