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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Open data needed for earthquake predictions

Globalizing quake information, Nature Geoscience, December 2008.  The journal has made this editorial TA at its own site, but authorized an OA copy at the site of the Global Earthquake Model.  Excerpt from the latter:

The Global Earthquake Model is an open-source initiative aimed at creating the definitive instrument for the calculation and communication of earthquake risks. It is a promising attempt to pool regional knowledge to create one reliable global resource and to facilitate the communication of the results to policy makers and the public.

The Global Earthquake Model is an initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), set to launch in early 2009. But work on a technology demonstrator version, GEM1, has already begun. When fully functional, it will be possible to calculate the probability that an earthquake will strike a particular region during a user-specified timeframe, and also the expected ground motion. This capability will be founded on an extensive database of geological and geophysical data, such as the locations of active faults, historical earthquakes, and the nature of soils. The model will be constantly refined as new information becomes available and the estimation of probabilities will be dynamic rather than static.

When combined with data on population density and the quality of buildings, the system will allow the estimation of the likely damage to life and property....

Rich geological and geophysical data sets are available for some regions of the world such as the United States, but the same is not true for less wealthy and developed regions....Encouraging the involvement of governments of developing nations in the Global Earthquake Model project may be one way of creating greater awareness and a culture of preparedness....

The project is still in its infancy, and it is difficult to gauge its likely impact, let alone evaluate it critically. But it seems to be based on sound foundations: making the tools freely accessible is just, and seeking genuine cooperation of various stakeholders is democratic. The success of the Global Earthquake Model is in everyone’s interest; the whole-hearted support of scientists, governments, and the private sector should help it to live up to its promise.

Comment.  GEM seems to depend on the openness of data, not just the accuracy and comprehensiveness of data.  If the input data are not open, but the model produces open outputs, then specialists could infer the broad contours of the input data.  Hence, regions unwilling to make their data public would likely be unwilling to participate in the project even with closed data.  If so, then, this is not just a call to governments to support the project with relevant data, but to support it with open data.