30 May 1997

A dedicated parallel supercomputer facility for earthquake simulation at the Queensland University Advanced Centre for Earthquake Studies (QUAKES), could lead to a reduction in Australia's earthquake risk.

QUAKES director Associate Professor Peter Mora said that such a facility, which will be showcased at the Centre's third annual meeting on Tuesday, June 3, was unique.

'It places the University at the cutting edge of earthquake research worldwide,' he said.

The Silicon Graphics Origin 2000 parallel supercomputer was jointly funded by the University of Queensland, the Australian Research Council, and industrial sponsorship including a collaborative agreement with Silicon Graphics Corporation.

Dr Mora said ongoing observational studies at the Centre revealed that the probability of damaging levels of earthquake-induced ground shaking, and hence, the potential for loss of life and infrastructure damage,was much higher in Australia than previously assessments suggested.

In Queensland, recent data indicated that the entire east coast had a substantial earthquake hazard, suggesting the possibility that many existing structures could need to be retrofitted and new structures designed, to take into account the new estimate of earthquake loads, he said.

'There is a real risk a sizeable earthquake will strike an urban centre in Queensland,' Dr Mora said.

'To minimise the State's vulnerability to an earthquake disaster, it is crucial to accurately quantify the earthquake hazard, and to develop appropriate mitigation measures that take this information into consideration.'

Dr Mora said the supercomputer provided the power needed to commence developing realistic simulation approaches for the physics of earthquakes on model faults, and for seismicity patterns likely to occur in regions.

'Numerical studies using the simulation model will be used to help us unravel how to reliably assess the earthquake hazard in Australia, where the short history of earthquake recordings does not provide a reliable indication of future earthquake hazard levels,' he said.

'The supercomputer simulation research has particular relevance to Queensland where earthquake monitoring commenced only relatively recently and consequently, little earthquake data is available.

"We need to be smarter about how we assess the earthquake hazard to implement adequate mitigation measures, and supercomputer simulation studies coupled with our observational earthquake program in Queensland are the means.'

Dr Mora said there was international interest in the Centre's realistic earthquake simulation research program which could lead to a major international science collaboration.

He said it was important that governments and the community realised that the 1989 Newcastle earthquake could not be considered as an isolated occurrence.This Richter magnitude 5.6 earthquake resulted in 13 deaths and an estimated repair bill of $3-4 billion.

'Earthquakes of this magnitude and above are not that infrequent, about every two decades on average in Queensland,' he said.

'Earthquakes of with serious damage potential occur in the State about every six years on average.

'Australia is quite vulnerable because we don't have adequate mitigation measures in place - certainly not commensurate with the level of hazard and potential for seriously damaging earthquakes.

'We cannot afford to await until earthquake disasters occur in Australia, or until the centuries of seismicity data are gathered that would allow the hazard to be accurately quantified.

'Australia is undergoing rapid development and answers are required now so that effective earthquake mitigation measures can be developed.'

Dr Mora said QUAKES also provided postgraduate training in high-performance computing methodology which could ultimately lead to new 'high-tech' opportunities and international interest for both Queensland and Australia.

'It is also fascinating that in Australia, which is not well known for its earthquake hazard, we are at the forefront of earthquake simulation studies,' he said.

For more information contact Dr Peter Mora on (07) 3365 2128 or (07) 3365 7418.

The QUAKES annual meeting will be held in the Kathleen Room, University of Queensland's Staff and Graduates Club, Staff House Road, St Lucia on Tuesday, June 3 from 8.30am to 4.30pm.

Discussion topics will include earthquake simulation research on the Origin 2000 Supercomputer, an overview of the QUAKES program, earthquake risk estimates in Queensland, an earthquake scenario in a coastal city, engineering implications of the increased earthquake hazard estimates and the options and benefits of seismic monitoring networks.

Members of the media are welcome to attend from 8.30am to 12.30pm. Dr Mora will be available for interviews on June 3 after 4.30pm. Interviews can be scheduled through Tracy Paroz on telephone (07) 3365 7418.