Measuring and Predicting Impacts of Geological Events on the NERC

Written by Ken Rudolph

On April 3rd, 2024, Taiwan experienced a 7.4 magnitude earthquake—the largest in 25 years—which triggered landslides and multiple aftershocks, some of which reached a magnitude of 6.4. This quake occurred on a reverse fault, which happens when a quake lifts one side of the Earth’s crust relative to the other, moving up and over the lower block causing the quake. This specific type of earthquake is researched by Andreas Plesch and his team at Harvard as a part of the PFC2D Particle Flow Code 2D Model Project

This research happens in two forms: Analyzing historical data and the displacement caused by past geological events and running applications for sandbox experiments that use geomechanical models based on the distinct element method (DEM). This research is facilitated through the New England Research Cloud (NERC) operated by the MOC Alliance. The project uses the NERC for storing and analyzing historical geological data including the geometry of the rupture, the type of soil, and the damage associated with the fault. The NERC also provides the digital environment for globalistic assessment, displacement risk analysis, and detailed sandbox experiments which simulate grains of elements that can move and interact with each other and replicate the process of actual earthquakes. Analysis of this data, alongside their virtual applications and experiments, can be used to predict how a quake will react, how wide the displacement will be, and what kind of scar develops. Understanding these geological events has far-reaching implications and can provide valuable insight that can be utilized by many fields from city planning to first responders.

The NERC is a public cloud that provides low-cost cloud services for researchers.

Plesch spoke with us about the benefits of using the NERC and how it enables his research. Plesch stated that the project wanted to move towards a cloud solution with remote computation of the experiments. He wanted a flexible platform for their software to run on that could accommodate their research as it expanded. The NERC was valuable as it is an efficient and convenient solution that allowed the project to run many experiments. Another feature that drew Plesch’s team to the NERC was its customizability and ease of use. Plesch’s team wanted a fully equipped resource with enough memory, CPUs, and GPUs to run their research applications. The initial attraction of the platform was that you could pick what type of environment you wanted and what specific resources you needed for the research. Cost was another major factor in the project’s decision to utilize the NERC. “Commercial clouds can be quite expensive once you figure in connectivity and storage,” said Plesch. The NERC provides a much more cost-effective solution than commercial clouds. Plesch told us that the NERC is convenient and easy to set up your environment and systems. “It’s important to support a resource like NERC,” says Plesch, highlighting the importance of a public cloud developed for research in today’s technology landscape.

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