Section 2.6: Seismic Hazard and Stress Field

Head of Section: Prof. Dr. Fabrice Cotton

The move toward a safer and more resilient society requires improved methods for seismic hazard assessment. The goal of the section is to achieve progress beyond the state-of-the-art, in all steps leading to an improved assessment of probabilistic seismic hazard. Our activities are driven by the following challenges:

  • Recent dramatic events (e.g. Haiti, 2010; Tohoku earthquake in 2011; Nepal, 2015) have demonstrated that we are only at the beginning in understanding how tectonic faults behave. We need to mobilize our "scientific imagination" combined with advanced physics-based geomechanical modelling, to define new paradigms based on the latest research results, in order to understand the possible size and scale of earthquakes in the future. In the coming decades seismic events that had little impact on villages and towns will be shaking urban agglomerations with several millions of people. We thus focus our studies on faults located to mega-cities and develop probabilistic seismic hazard assessments that take into account the specific properties of urban faults and basins (“Urban Fault Observatories”).
  • The exponential growth of seismological data offers new insights to analyse how strong-ground shaking depends on the effects of the source, path and local site geology. With the development of broad-band simulation platforms, we are also rapidly moving toward simulation-based hazard assessment. Our goal is to integrate these simulations within seismic hazard studies and develop physics-based AND data-driven ground-shaking models. We also investigate how uncertainty reduction can be achieved in the most efficient way, by optimal monitoring and geotechnical investigations or through the development of ground-motion models adapted specifically for moderate and low seismicity areas (e.g. Western Europe).
  • For different natural hazards, different procedures have been proposed to describe their occurrence in a probabilistic way, and to explore their epistemic uncertainties (i.e. uncertainty due incomplete knowledge). We need to develop strategies to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these novel approaches for the assessment of epistemic uncertainties and hazard probabilities. These uncertainties should be explored, quantified and well-communicated by decisions-makers and earthquake civil engineers.
  • Underground energy extraction and storage will play a fundamental role in energy security in the 21st century. Furthermore, the safe long-term disposal of high-level nuclear waste is a key challenge for this and future generations. We provide for critical (surface and underground) infrastructures site-specific probabilistic seismic hazard assessment. For this we link classical probabilistic modelling approaches with physics-based concepts that evaluate the criticality of the crustal stress state and its spatio-temporal evolution.
  • Providing tools and products is not enough. We need to strengthen the outreach, training and education of our research results. Furthermore, identifying and strengthening the interfaces between geosciences, engineering sciences, mathematics and computer sciences will be critical. Fast simulation and visualization tools for hazard, vulnerability and risk are needed to reach an integrated assessment of the consequences of future earthquakes. Such shared vision among researchers, engineers, decision-makers and society will contribute to identify key research priorities and to be better prepared for induced and natural hazards.


Image Prof. Dr. G. Grünthal

Prof. Dr. Fabrice Cotton

Head of the Section 2.6
Seismic Hazard and
Stress Field

Helmholtzstr. 6, Room 211
T: +49(0)331 288 1125


Solveig Strutzke

Helmholtzstr. 6, Room 209
T: +49(0)331 288 1121
F: +49(0)331 288 1127

Direction to the location Helmholtzstr. 6