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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Alexander Densmore

Robinson, T.R., Rosser, N.J., Densmore, A.L., Oven, K.J., Shrestha, S.N. & Guragain, R. Use of scenario ensembles for deriving seismic risk. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2018;115:E9532–E9541.

Author(s) from Durham


High death tolls from recent earthquakes show that seismic risk remains high globally. While there has been much focus on seismic hazard, large uncertainties associated with exposure and vulnerability have led to more limited analyses of the potential impacts of future earthquakes. We argue that as both exposure and vulnerability are reducible factors of risk, assessing their importance and variability allows for prioritization of the most effective disaster risk-reduction (DRR) actions. We address this through earthquake ensemble modeling, using the example of Nepal. We model fatalities from 90 different scenario earthquakes and establish whether impacts are specific to certain scenario earthquakes or occur irrespective of the scenario. Our results show that for most districts in Nepal impacts are not specific to the particular characteristics of a single earthquake, and that total modeled impacts are skewed toward the minimum estimate. These results suggest that planning for the worst-case scenario in Nepal may place an unnecessarily large burden on the limited resources available for DRR. We also show that the most at-risk districts are predominantly in rural western Nepal, with ∼9.5 million Nepalis inhabiting districts with higher seismic risk than Kathmandu. Our proposed approach provides a holistic consideration of seismic risk for informing contingency planning and allows the relative importance of the reducible components of risk (exposure and vulnerability) to be estimated, highlighting factors that can be targeted most effectively. We propose this approach for informing contingency planning, especially in locations where information on the likelihood of future earthquakes is inadequate.