Seismic hazard estimation in stable continental regions

Does PSHA meet the needs for modern engineering design in Australia?


  • Trevor I. Allen Geoscience Australia, Canberra ACT



Damaging earthquakes in Australia and other regions characterised by low seismicity are considered low probability but high consequence events. Uncertainties in modelling earthquake occurrence rates and ground motions for damaging earthquakes in these regions pose unique challenges to forecasting seismic hazard, including the use of this information as a reliable benchmark to improve seismic safety within our communities. Key challenges for assessing seismic hazards in these regions are explored, including: the completeness and continuity of earthquake catalogues; the identification and characterisation of neotectonic faults; the difficulties in characterising earthquake ground motions; the uncertainties in earthquake source modelling, and; the use of modern earthquake hazard information to support the development of future building provisions.

Geoscience Australia recently released its 2018 National Seismic Hazard Assessment (NSHA18). Results from the NSHA18 indicate significantly lower seismic hazard across almost all Australian localities at the 1/500 annual exceedance probability level relative to the factors adopted for the current Australian Standard AS1170.4–2007 (R2018). These new hazard estimates have challenged notions of seismic hazard in Australia in terms of the recurrence of damaging ground motions. This raises the question of whether current practices in probabilistic seismic hazard analysis (PSHA) deliver the outcomes required to protect communities and infrastructure assets in low-seismicity regions, such as Australia. This manuscript explores a range of measures that could be undertaken to update and modernise the Australian earthquake loading standard, in the context of these modern seismic hazard estimates, including the use of alternate ground-motion exceedance probabilities for assigning seismic demands for ordinary-use structures.

The estimation of seismic hazard at any location is an uncertain science, particularly in low-seismicity regions. However, as our knowledge of the physical characteristics of earthquakes improve, our estimates of the hazard will converge more closely to the actual – but unknowable – (time independent) hazard. Understanding the uncertainties in the estimation of seismic hazard is also of key importance, and new software and approaches allow hazard modellers to better understand and quantify this uncertainty. It is therefore prudent to regularly update the estimates of the seismic demands in our building codes using the best available evidence-based methods and models.


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How to Cite

Allen, T. I. (2020). Seismic hazard estimation in stable continental regions: Does PSHA meet the needs for modern engineering design in Australia?. Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 53(1), 22–36.