The prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) PetaApps program recently awarded Carnegie Mellon's Jacobo Bielak a $1.6 million four-year grant for his research on earthquakes. He'll use the funding to develop computer simulations that play an important role in reducing seismic risk for large urban coastal cities.
"These simulations will provide unprecedented detailed knowledge of how an urban system performs in a large earthquake and what is needed for improving disaster planning and preparation," said Bielak, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon, who was recently elected to the Mexican Academy of Engineering.
"One of the keys to making such large-scale simulations possible is the ability to create extremely large models of earthquake prone areas like the Los Angeles basin," added Bielak. "This new grant will give us the resources to create three-dimensional models that can simulate how earthquakes impact buildings, bridges and other critical urban infrastructures."
Over the past decade, Bielak, O'Hallaron and their students have successfully collaborated with researchers at the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) on a series of increasingly ambitious and influential computer models of earthquake behavior. They created fully realistic three-dimensional representations of complex basin geology, earthquake sources and earthquake ground motion.
But Bielak reports that this new earthquake research is designed to push the capability of existing hardware and software programs.
The team will have the opportunity to integrate the ground motion of large sedimentary basins like the Los Angeles area with a variety of databases — such as entire building inventories — to study the impacts of high-magnitude earthquakes on buildings, transportation systems and other important underground infrastructure.
James H. Garrett Jr., head of Carnegie Mellon's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said the NSF grant is another example of the university's successful problem-solving environment.
"The project draws upon our expertise in earthquake engineering, computer and computational science and seismology," Garrett said.
Bielak and his team will also collaborate extensively with the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to test some of the special algorithms and simulation structures — allowing them to improve public safety during an earthquake.