Natural hazards: Understanding risks and safeguarding the human habitat

Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, and other natural hazards, develop fast, cannot be reliably predicted and may develop into disasters. We aim to better understand and quantify extreme events and their impacts, to support risk analyses and disaster risk reduction. We develop and test models and their uncertainties and develop early warning systems.

Risk results from the superposition (convolution) of hazard and vulnerability. In simplified terms, hazard can be described by the intensity and probability of extreme events, and vulnerability by the exposure and susceptibility of the socio-economic system (social conditions, economy, built environment, etc.) affected by extremes. We aim at understanding the process interactions that may lead to extremes, developing methods for quantifying hazards and risks in a changing environment, and developing technologies for early warning and the provision of fast information immediately before, during or after disasters.

We focus on earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods, and related hazards, such as landslides and induced seismicity. An important part of our research is devoted to interactions between different hazards, such as earthquake-triggered landslides. Our research is mainly conducted in Germany and the programme’s observatories in Chile, Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean, Central Asia and in the Indian Ocean region. In most of these regions, several hazards are investigated in parallel, fostering cooperation beyond disciplinary and organisational borders.

Key research questions:

  • What are the critical process interactions that lead to extreme events?
  • How can changes in hazard and risk be quantified and integrated into risk assessment?
  • How can we use technology to improve early warning and provide rapid information immediately before, during and after disasters?
  • What are the limits of predictability and how can models be rigorously tested?

Latest publications:

Maccaferri, F., Richter, N., Walter, T. R. (2017 online): The effect of giant lateral collapses on magma pathways and the location of volcanism. - Nature Communications, 8.

Micallef, A., Watt, S., Berndt, C., Urlaub, M., Brune, S., Klaucke, I., Boettner, C., Karstens, J., Elger, J. (2017 online): An 1888 Volcanic Collapse Becomes a Benchmark for Tsunami Models. - Geology & Geophysics.

Heinicke, J., Woith, H., Alexandrakis, C., Buske, S., Telesca, L. (2017 online): Can hydroseismicity explain recurring earthquake swarms in NW-Bohemia? - Geophysical Journal International.

Conticello, F., Cioffi, F., Merz, B., Lall, U. (2017 online): An event synchronization method to link heavy rainfall events and large-scale atmospheric circulation features. - International Journal of Climatology.

Kotha, S. R., Bindi, D., Cotton, F. (2017 online): From Ergodic to Region- and Site-Specific Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Assessment: Method Development and Application at European and Middle Eastern Sites. - Earthquake Spectra.

Kotha, S. R., Bindi, D., Cotton, F. (2017 online): Site-Corrected Magnitude and Region Dependent Correlations of Horizontal Peak Spectral Amplitudes. - Earthquake Spectra.

Kohrangi, M., Kotha, S. R., Bazzurro, P. (2017 online): Ground-motion models for average spectral acceleration in a period range: direct and indirect methods. - Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering.

Lopez Comino, J. A., Cesca, S., Heimann, S., Grigoli, F., Milkereit, C., Dahm, T., Zang, A. (2017 online): Characterization of Hydraulic Fractures Growth During the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory Experiment (Sweden). - Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering.

Kreibich, H., Di Baldassarre, G., Vorogushyn, S., Aerts, J. C. J. H., Apel, H., Aronica, G. T., Arnbjerg-Nielsen, K., Bouwer, L. M., Bubeck, P., Caloiero, T., Do, T. C., Cortès, M., Gain, A. K., Giampá, V., Kuhlicke, C., Kundzewicz, Z. W., Llasat, M. C., Mård, J., Matczak, P., Mazzoleni, M., Molinari, D., Nguyen, D., Petrucci, O., Schröter, K., Slager, K., Thieken, A. H., Ward, P. J., Merz, B. (2017 online): Adaptation to flood risk - results of international paired flood event studies. - Earth's Future.

Merz, B. (2017 online): Flood Risk Analysis. - In: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazards Science.

Kotha, S., Bazzurro, P., Pagani, M. (2017 online): Effects of Epistemic Uncertainty in Seismic Hazard Estimates on Building Portfolio Losses. - Earthquake Spectra.

Ktenidou, O.-J., Roumelioti, Z., Abrahamson, N., Cotton, F., Pitilakis, K., Hollender, F. (2017 online): Understanding single-station ground motion variability and uncertainty (sigma): lessons learnt from EUROSEISTEST. - Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering.

Zang, A., Stephansson, O., Stenberg, L., Plenkers, K., Specht, S., Milkereit, C., Schill, E., Kwiatek, G., Dresen, G., Zimmermann, G., Dahm, T., Weber, M. (2017): Hydraulic fracture monitoring in hard rock at 410 m depth with an advanced fluid-injection protocol and extensive sensor array. - Geophysical Journal International, 208, 2, pp. 790—813.

Mousavi, S., Haberland, C., Bauer, K., Hejrani, B., Korn, M. (2017): Attenuation tomography in West Bohemia/Vogtland. - Tectonophysics, 695, pp. 64—75.

Nied, M., Schröter, K., Lüdtke, S., Nguyen, D., Merz, B. (2017): What are the hydro-meteorological controls on flood characteristics? - Journal of Hydrology, 545, pp. 310—326.


Profile photo of  Prof. Dr. Torsten Dahm

Prof. Dr. Torsten Dahm
Physics of Earthquakes and Volcanoes

Helmholtzstraße 6/7
Building H 7, room 201
14467 Potsdam
tel. +49 331 288-1200


Profile photo of  Priv. Doz. Dr. Heidi Kreibich

Priv. Doz. Dr. Heidi Kreibich

Building C 4, room 2.33
14473 Potsdam
tel. +49 331 288-1550