Reimagining earthquake history: lessons for risk assessment


The historical record of earthquakes is a crucial data resource for seismic hazard analysis. In every region, the largest events are rare, and difficult to parameterize. Where such events are associated with the ruptures of mapped faults, defining the extent of possible fault ruptures is an important task which is guided by historical precedent. Traditionally, in seismic hazard analysis, if a particular rupture geometry had not been observed, it was not included in a seismic source model. Seeing is believing is an empirical principle which fails to recognize the fundamental stochasticity of earthquake occurrence. A fault rupture that happened in the past is just one of numerous ways in which seismic energy might have been dynamically released. There are important lessons to be learned for risk assessment by reimagining earthquake history. A number of salient examples from around the world are given of this counterfactual risk perspective.

About the speaker

Dr. Gordon Woo is a catastrophist with the risk modelling agency RMS, as well as a visiting professor at UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, and an adjunct professor at the NTU Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management, Singapore. Experienced in the assessment of many types of extreme risk, he is the chief editor of Geohazards and Georisks, a section of Frontiers in Earth Science. He is a noted expert on probabilistic seismic hazard assessment, and has developed seismic hazard models for many countries. He is the author of the two books, The Mathematics of Natural Catastrophes, published by Imperial College Press in 1999, and Calculating Catastrophe, published also by Imperial College Press in 2011. The latter book was translated into Italian as Scienza e Coscienza della Catastrofi. Dr. Woo graduated as the best mathematician of his year at Cambridge University, completed his PhD in theoretical physics at MIT, and has been a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Further information

This evening meeting is organised by SECED and chaired by Damian Grant (Arup). Non-members of the society are welcome to attend. Attendance at this meeting is free. Seats are allocated on a first come, first served basis. Tea, coffee and biscuits will be served from 5.30pm - 6pm. For further information, please contact Shelly-Ann Russell (tel. 020 7665 2147, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

This event will be broadcast online.

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Event Details

Event Date 27/11/2019 6:00 pm
Institution of Civil Engineers
1 Great George Street Westminster, London SW1P 3AA United Kingdom
Institution of Civil Engineers

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