SeismoChat: How to disarm earthquakes

SeismoChat: How to disarm earthquakes

Solmaz Mohajder is a researcher at the Earth System Dynamics Research group of University of Tübingen in Germany. She has published an online database and an interactive map for active faults in Central Asia (Mohajder et al., 2016).  More recently, Solmaz and her colleagues have compiled fault slip rates to investigate whether deformation rates from GPS and from geologic observations provide consistent slip rate information at the orogen scale (Mohadjer et al., 2017). In 2016, Solmaz was awarded an EGU Public Engagement grant.

The current call for applications for the EGU Public Engagement grant closes on February 15! See this page for more information.

Recently, Solmaz has described her work for and with the Public Engagement Grant on GeoLog. We have taken the opportunity to ask her about factors that shaped her career so far.

Please tell us about your research interests!

My research focuses on quantifying natural hazards using a variety of different techniques such as GPS geodesy and terrestrial remote sensing (Lidar), and making research results available to those at risk through geohazards education and community outreach.

In how many countries did you live/work up to now? How has living in many countries reshaped your way of doing research?

I have stopped counting. I was born and raised in Iran and spent most of my life living in the US (Pacific Northwest) and Germany with one year in Tajikistan.

I learned and embraced the culture of volunteerism, community outreach and education for the first time in the United States. As an undergrad at the University of Washington, I volunteered with the Pipeline Project as a science/math tutor in Seattle public schools, immigrant/refugee community centers and correctional facilities in my neighborhood. I then took my newly-discovered passion and skills for science, education and outreach to the University of Montana. I combined scientific research with science education and outreach as part of my Master program, for example working on an earthquake education curriculum for K-12 schools (Mohadjer et al., 2010) and on quantifying the deformation field in Central Asia (Mohadjer et al., 2010).

But it wasn’t until I was asked questions by those I met in places like Pakistan and Tajikistan, particularly children, that I became aware of the importance of my research in practical life. Simple yet important questions such as “What is an earthquake?”, “How does it affect me?” or “What to do about them?” kept me up at night, and eventually shaped the way I’ve been doing research since 2006.


You have published a paper about “A Quaternary fault database for central Asia”. Tell us something about your work: What is the general context of this study?

To calculate and map seismic hazard, it’s essential to know where the active faults are and how they behave. The Quaternary fault database for Central Asia improves access to this kind of information through a web-based interactive map and an online database with search capabilities that allow users to organize data by different fields. The database can be accessed here.

It took about 2 years to build and populate the database. The work involved reviewing over 250 published papers and compiling three large sets of data: fault locations (~1196 traces of faults), fault attributes (for 123 faults) and seismicity (>34,000 earthquakes). But what you see on the site is subject to change based on community’s feedback.

What was the main motivation for this work?

The project was inspired by my interactions with the general public, their curiosity, and genuine concern for earthquakes. In Tübingen, Germany, I continue to make and take opportunities to interact with the public through events such as TEDx Stuttgart (e.g. How to disarm earthquakes) and by developing educational videos that can be shared globally (e.g., earthquake video library project).      

What is new with respect to previous similar studies?

We have access to a large amount of data on active faulting in Central Asia, but these data are often documented in a wide range of formats (digital, text, maps, etc.) and published in non-open access journals. This makes data access and dissemination difficult especially for non-academic users and the general public. This project provides an open-access and searchable database that includes an interactive fault map. It allows users to run queries (e.g., what are the faults located near I live?) and access important fault parameters such as slip rates and earthquake history.  

What are your hopes for the impact that it might have on science/society in general?

My hope is that local and intentional organizations working in Central Asia (especially those involved in development-related projects) consider fault location and parameters in their project analysis.

What will be the next step in the project?

The next steps may include: addition of new fault information (e.g., fault geometry, recurrence interval, slip/strain rate maps), as well as information from existing landslide and flood inventories for the region. We also hope to include geo-thermochronology data for catchment mass fluxes and fault offsets.   

You are last year’s EGU public Engagement Grant Awardee!

— Can you tell us more about what you did with this grant?

This grant has helped us produce 10 earthquake education videos covering topics that range from Earth’s interior and plate tectonics to liquefaction and structural hazards. These videos are designed to translate seemingly abstract or banal concepts into easily accessible, practical and potentially life-saving information. The production involved young scientists from several universities across the UK and Germany, and is endorsed by institutions such as the MIT BLOSSOMS, Teachers Without Borders, and Geology for Global Development. Most of these videos are currently available for viewing and download on the EGU Media channel– The remaining 2 are in production right now.

Do you have tips for other ECS on how to turn their science useful to the public?

Talk to the public and listen to their comments and questions, and take them seriously. Often, the public will tell you (or at least hint at) how you can make your work more relevant and useful to them. I’d suggest start with family members and friends and think twice about turning down a public speaking opportunity that you’ve been offered.

As a conclusion, what was the most helpful advice you have ever got for your scientific work/career and who gave it to you?

“Don’t kill or get killed” is a really important advice for those who work in remote and potentially dangerous parts of the world. Also “always save your data before you do anything else” because if you die, at least there’s a chance for someone else to use your data. Words of a role model, friend, colleague and an adviser.  

Thank you for the seismochat!

The open-access active fault database project:

Would you like to share the passion for your science in a seismochat? Contact us at

Edited by ECS representatives Redouane Chimouni, Koen van Noten, Lucia Gualtieri, Laura Ermert
Laura is a PhD student at ETH Zürich in Switzerland. She is working on ambient noise source inversion with cross-correlation techniques. Her goal on the blog is to showcase PhD students' and young researchers' results, as well as recent seismological highlights. You can reach Laura at lermert att

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