Earthquake Seismology Science Capability

BGS Research

The Earthquake Seismology Science Capability measures, records and analyses ground motions from earthquakes and other seismic events across the UK and surrounding area. Our data and research are the basis for understanding seismic hazard to guide risk assessment, planning and design of high-consequence structures such as nuclear plants, dams and reservoirs. We also use seismic waves to construct images of the Earth that help answer fundamental scientific questions about the nature of its interior.

Our monitoring network

We operate a real-time network of seismometers across the UK (Figure 1) to record and characterise earthquakes and their ground motions in order to inform UK Government, the public, industry and regulators following significant seismic events, to assess earthquake risk and to plan for future events.

The network also provides data to image the interior of the Earth and improve understanding of the driving forces of earthquakes and their interactions.

Seismometers in the UK and surrounding area.
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Figure 1: seismometers in the UK and surrounding area. BGS © UKRI.

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Earthquake hazard

Earthquakes have a significant impact on people and infrastructure, both in the UK and worldwide. While damaging earthquakes are relatively rare in the UK, there are a number of well-documented examples over the past few hundred years (Figure 2).

The hazard is recognised by the government through the National Risk Register and National Risk Assessments. Long-term observation and measurement leads to improved confidence in seismic hazard assessments, helping regulatory decisions, setting of appropriate guidelines and safe operating practices in industry.

Historical seismicity in the UK and surrounding area dating back to 1358.
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Figure 2: historical seismicity in the UK and surrounding area, dating back to 1358. BGS © UKRI.

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What can earthquakes tell us?

Seismic waves from earthquakes contain information about both the earthquakes themselves and the structure and properties of the Earth. By analysing seismic waves recorded by this network of sensors, we can construct 3D images and infer values of crucial parameters of the subsurface (Figure 3).

In addition, monitoring changes over time allows us to understand and model Earth processes and structures on a variety of scales. This information helps us answer fundamental scientific questions about the subsurface and its future use both as a source for sustainable energy and as a means of energy and waste storage.

Predicted peak ground acceleration for a 2,500 year return period, from Musson and Sargeant (2008)
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Figure 3: predicted peak ground acceleration for a 2500 year return period, from Musson and Sargeant (2008). BGS © UKRI.

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  • Operate a national network of seismometers that record earthquake ground motions, maintaining standards that comply with the best scientific practice and make the data widely available for scientific research.
  • Provide prompt and objective information for significant earthquakes to help allay public concern, to co-ordinate an appropriate emergency response and to plan for future events.
  • Improve confidence in seismic hazard assessments that lead to regulatory decisions, setting appropriate guidelines and ensuring safe operating practices in industry.
  • Develop quantitative models of the interior of the Earth and its physical properties, monitor temporal change and constrain understanding of dynamic processes.
Maintenance work.
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Figure 4: seismometer maintenance work can take place at any time and in any weather! BGS © UKRI.

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Musson, R M W, and Sargeant, S. 2008. UK earthquake monitoring 2007/2008British Geological Survey Open Report OR/08/072. (Edinburgh, UK: British Geological Survey.) (Unpublished.)

Need more information?

Please contact the BGS enquiries team

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