What is the Foreshock Traffic Light System?

Recently, Laura Gulia investigated the spatio-temporal evolution of the earthquake size distribution throughout a seismic sequence focusing on the b-value. This is a parameter characterizing the relationship between the earthquake magnitude and the number of earthquakes. She and her colleagues found out that, immediately after a mainshock, the b-value increases by 20%-30% and remains high for at least the following 5 years, reducing the chance of occurrence of a larger earthquake near the fault that originated the mainshock.

Based on their research, Laura Gulia and Stefan Wiemer developed the Foreshock Traffic Light System (FTLS), a promising tool for the mainshock and aftershock hazard assessment. In the interview with Gabriele Amato from the NH blog, Laura Gulia explains more about the thoughts behind it and future research plans. Read the full interview here.

Gulia, L., and S. Wiemer (2019). Real-time discrimination of earthquake foreshocks and aftershocks, Nature 574, 193–199.


Looking into the future of forecasts

In the United Kingdom’s House of Commons in 1854, a Member of Parliament stood up and made the suggestion that recent scientific advances might allow the weather in the city to be known ‘twenty-four hours in advance’. The House broke into uproar and laughter - the idea was considered utterly preposterous. But with thousands of lives being lost in the country every year as a result of storms, by 1861 storm warnings were being wired to ports using the new telegraph system. So popular were they, that these ‘weather forecasts’ quickly became a staple part of newspaper content across the country.

Now, 160 years later, operational earthquake forecasting is in a similar position. With a proliferation of sensors that would have been considered infeasible perhaps 50 years ago alongside growing computer modelling power and expertise, geoscientists increasingly have information about potential seismic activity that could be of use in emergency and public planning. But how best to communicate that?

Over a century of experience in communicating the risk of life-threatening storms has put meteorology in a strong position to help us tackle this problem, but they are not the only ones: those used to communicating flooding, epidemics of disease and even financial market fluctuations all have lessons we can learn from.
As well as talking to communications professionals in all these fields, we are also listening to people ‘on the ground’ in three key RISE countries: Italy, Switzerland and Iceland. By interviewing members of the public, emergency responders and long-term planners and testing our messages and visualisations on them we will hopefully soon be able to advise on how best to get useful ‘earthquake forecasts’ into the hands of those who can act on them.
Hopefully as well as learning from the successes of weather forecasting, we can be prepared by its failures. Tragically the father of the weather forecast, Robert Fitzroy, beset with scepticism from scientific colleagues about his methods, funding problems from government, and complaints from those who lost business as a result of false alarms in the warnings, killed himself before he saw them become the ubiquitous and lifesaving service that they are today. With the backing of RISE and alert to these potential barriers, we hope to overcome them.


A closer look #3: Structural Health Monitoring – Opportunities for Integrating Sensing Data into Rapid Loss Assessment

The extreme loads imposed by earthquakes threaten the integrity of the built environment. As not all buildings react in the same way to earthquakes, a rapid understanding of the extent of damage to buildings and its consequences on providing safe shelter for the population is a crucial contribution to an earthquake-resilient Europe. Therefore, in a similar way to doctors who examine vital functions to diagnose the health of their patients, structural health monitoring allows engineers to diagnose the integrity of buildings.

In the absence of means for direct measurements of building damage, one objective of the RISE project consists in finding indirect indicators of damage. Data-driven structural health monitoring uses damage-sensitive indicators, which are derived from the building’s earthquake response providing a real-time performance indication. To this end, signal processing, statistical analysis and machine learning are used to derive performance indicators from the time-and-frequency domain representation of the response. The increasing availability of sensing hardware at low cost, combined with the ever-growing possibilities for local data processing offered by the Internet-of-Things capabilities, provide exciting opportunities towards smart structures, which support engineers and decision-makers in the immediate aftermath of earthquakes. Hence, the early response to earthquake events can be improved by comparison to the current practice of time-consuming and potentially subjective visual inspections.
Well-designed damage-sensitive indicators help to more precisely diagnose damage by providing higher-level information regarding the location and the severity of building damages. The RISE project, through the breadth of its network, offers a rare opportunity to combine building-specific values from structural health monitoring with regionally applicable building behaviour models. With the engineering knowledge of building taxonomies and damage accumulation, the automation provided by data-driven structural-health monitoring can enable rapid assessment of regional consequences to the built environment, induced by earthquake events, and further provide guidance for rapid recovery. 

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Open Positions

The Chair of Seismology and Geodynamics ( at the department of Earth Science (ERDW) of ETH Zurich, and the Chair of Seismology that directs the Swiss Seismological Service at ETH Zurich (SED, are offering up to four postdoc or senior researcher positions in different areas of seismology:

More information


International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction #DRRday

The United Nations General Assembly has designated October 13th as the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction to promote a global culture of disaster risk reduction. Disasters have a vital impact on people's lives as well as on their wellbeing. Concerning catastrophes caused by nature such as thunderstorms, landslides, or droughts, earthquakes are the deadliest natural hazard. However, many damages and losses can be avoided through effective risk reduction strategies.

In March of this year, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.4 occurred near Zagreb (Croatia). Bricks fell from roofs, facades cracked, walls collapsed, debris damaged parked cars, and many citizens got injured. Up to now, earthquakes cannot be predicted, but there are measures and approaches for minimizing their consequences. Developing tools and measures to reduce future human and economic losses is the aim of RISE, which stands for "Real-time earthquake rIsk reduction for a reSilient Europe". RISE studies seismic risk, its changes, importance, and evolution at all stages of the risk management process. The project depicts current potentials and limits as well as advances the state of the art to reduce seismic risk in Europe and beyond.

After one year of the project, first results are becoming apparent. RISE contributes in many ways to gain knowledge, which will be beneficial to reduce further earthquake-related losses. For instance, RISE has successfully deployed a prototype array as a demonstrator in Bern (Switzerland) and designed an impulse generator, which is currently being tested in multi-storey buildings. In addition, the researcher focused on developing new and extending existing approaches to model seismicity. Some models have already demonstrated, and therefore, the project has made notable progress in the fields of earthquake forecasting. It also focused on physics-based modelling of seismicity, an evolving field. Furthermore, static and time-invariant exposure models for 45 countries and time-invariant vulnerability models representing over 500 buildings have been developed. To ensure the best possible usage of all available information for the benefit of society, RISE scientists tested different start page designs and hazard announcements representing the diversity of elements used in multi-hazard platforms and conducted workshops to understand which features of multi-hazard warning apps non-experts prefer.

Thus, RISE adopts an integrative, holistic view of risk reduction targeting the different stages of risk management. Improved technological capabilities are applied to combine and link all relevant information to enhance scientific understanding, inform societies and consequently foster Europe's resilience and beyond.

More information:



4 new publications in "The Power of Citizen Seismology: Science and Social Impacts"

Several RISE papers (some of them co-funded by the Turnkey project) dealing with crowdsourced data and public earthquake communication have recently been published. Four papers are part of the special issue of the open-access online Frontiers journal “The Power of Citizen Seismology: Science and Social Impacts” edited by Rémy Bossu, Kate Huihsuan Chen and Wen-Tzong Liang.

These four RISE papers published in the Frontiers journal cover interactions with the public, how seismological community can benefit from such interaction for rapid situation awareness and a method to speed-up seismic locations of felt earthquakes. You can find all papers here: 

Are you interested in more RISE publications? Here you will find the list with all our publications.


*The image for this news item is adapted from: Bossu et al. (2020), "Rapid Public Information and Situational Awareness After the November 26, 2019, Albania Earthquake: Lessons Learned From the LastQuake System"



A closer look #2: What is Operational Earthquake Forecasting?

One important focus of RISE is to advance earthquake predictability research such as Operational Earthquake Forecasting. This research can benefit from the constantly evolving observational capabilities of seismic monitoring efforts, which, for instance, result in an ever-increasing amount of recorded earthquakes, especially toward smaller magnitudes. Such capabilities need to be exploited to gain more insight into the earthquake occurrence processes and, therefore, to improve earthquake forecasting.

In our first step, we explore existing high-resolution earthquake catalogues that contain events with magnitudes down to ML0 or below. We started to develop an interactive tool that will facilitate and aid us in a more intuitive analysis of seismicity in five dimensions (see Figure).

In particular, we will focus on these aspects:

  1. Spatio-temporal variability in the frequency-magnitude distribution: e.g., statistical analyses of event sizes could tell us more about the state of a fault system.
  2. Earthquake clustering properties: e.g., well-located hypocenters could reveal how earthquake sequences progress and how earthquakes are triggered.
  3. Foreshock analysis: e.g., earthquakes prior to a larger earthquake might share a common spatial-temporal pattern. In addition, high-resolution catalogues could potentially reveal many more sequences that have foreshocks than is currently believed.
  4. Limits of the current quality of earthquakes catalogs, e.g., what information are we missing?

We will adopt state-of-the-art methods (e.g., from the machine learning domain) to augment these analyses, for instance, to employ a parameter selection and search for signals and patterns that are indicative of the earthquake occurrence process.

Our findings will have an impact on improving our understanding of the earthquake occurrence process. Our gained knowledge could allow us to develop innovative earthquake forecasting models, which can be stochastic, physics-based and/or of a hybrid type. Ultimately, our advances will contribute to mitigating better the seismic risk, which will be analysed within another work package of RISE.


A closer look #1: Towards optical sensing of ground motion for improved seismic hazard assessment

Optical fibres are the backbone of our modern communication network. Short pulses of laser light transmit enormous amounts of data, but on their journey from sender to the receiver, they also gather information about the optical fibre itself. In fact, microscopic displacements of the fibre slightly distort the laser pulses – an effect that has recently become detectable with highly sensitive interferometers.

This emerging technology, known as Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS), allows us to measure ground motion excited by a large variety of sources, such as earthquakes or landslides. Harnessing existing networks of telecommunication fibres, DAS, therefore, offers the opportunity to assess and potentially mitigate natural hazards in densely populated urban areas.

To explore this opportunity, RISE researchers at ETH Zurich are conducting a pilot experiment in the Swiss capital Bern, closely collaborating with the telecommunication company SWITCH. Several connected telecommunication fibres are traversing the city in different directions along with a 6 km long path measure ground motion every two metres, in real-time, nearly 1000 times per second. Most of the observed ground motion is caused by traffic, industrial installations, and construction sites.

Though the amplitude of these signals is, fortunately, much lower than the ground motion caused by destructive earthquakes, this wealth of data can be used to infer rock properties of the upper tens to hundreds of metres of the subsurface. Knowing these properties is essential to predict the ground motion caused by potential future earthquakes.

Research on DAS in urban environments is in its infancy, within the RISE project and worldwide. Initial results are very promising, especially in terms of the quality and unprecedented spatial resolution of the data. Yet, substantial research and development are still needed to process the enormous amounts of DAS data efficiently.


Detect earthquake-triggered landslides via Twitter

Detect earthquake-triggered landslides via Twitter

Landslides may significantly hamper earthquake response, because they can block roads. However, there is very little information about how, where and when earthquakes triggered landslides within the first few hours after a global earthquake occurred. Therefore, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) started a project in collaboration with the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) to evaluate whether it is possible to detect such landslides by monitoring tweets on Twitter in real time. 

Although such detection already exists for earthquakes at EMSC, the detection of landslides presents a different challenge, as the number of tweets published on this topic is very small. In order to tackle this issue, EMSC is working together with QCRI, which has developed AIDR (Artificial Intelligence Disaster Response). This is a platform, which harvests tweets from Twitter and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the pictures. A database of landslide pictures was the first training dataset generously provided by the British Geological Survey. Further AI training is currently ongoing. Besides that, we are manually checking all detected tweets on a daily basis and hope to have an operational prototype in the coming months.


Promising Kick-Off Meeting

Promising Kick-Off Meeting

The RISE kick-off meeting took place from 2 to 4 September 2019 in Zurich, Switzerland. Over 60 participants joined to discuss the project's first steps. Besides many interesting presentations held project members and external experts, a poster fair and breakout sessions provided enough room to be creative and to take everyone's expertise and ideas into account. During the conference dinner on a boat on Lake Zurich, the participants had the possibility to network and discuss in a different setting. Now the RISE community is ready to start with their work to make Europe more resilient.


RISE kick-off meeting in Zurich

RISE kick-off meeting in Zurich

From 2 to 4 September 2019, the RISE kick-off meeting will be held in Zurich. Over 60 representatives of the scientific community are expected to attend. The event will feature several poster sessions, breakout sessions, and a networking event to support the projects collaboration.