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James Dieterich

Distinguished Professor of Geophysics, Emeritus
James Dieterich
Exploring Earthquake Prediction and Impacts
Research that complements each other’s work has led James Dieterich and David Oglesby to answer big questions in the area of earthquake science as they individually study the physical processes that control earthquakes and the processes themselves. Why and when does an earthquake occur and how does it interact with other earthquakes in fault systems? Why do some earthquakes stop while others keep going? What causes some earthquakes to become large while others stay small? And how do these factors lead to the ground motion we experience on the surface of the earth?

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • U.S. Geological Survey, Distinguished Service Award (2007)
  • National Academy of Science (2003)
  • American Geophysical Union, Geophysics (2000)
  • American Geophysical Union, Geophysics (1989)


Q: What sets your research apart from other earthquake studies?
Our research specifically focuses on the physical processes that control earthquakes. We use large-scale computer simulations to understand how earthquakes occur in fault systems.

Q: What do your models show?
We’ve been developing a fault system model of California very similar to climate models only we’re studying faults and the fault interactions so we can simulate up to a million years of earthquakes at a high resolution. We’ve developed animations of this process and what you see is earthquakes occurring at an accelerated rate throughout the state of California, color coded to indicate the level of ground shaking expected for each of these earthquakes.

Q: How does your research impact everyday life?
Our research has impacts on a variety of topics including earthquake insurance rates as we work to determine the probability of earthquakes over some period of time throughout the state. As well, seismic zonation helps to develop design criteria for buildings throughout the state and the models we produce generate scenario earthquakes used for hazard planning and response efforts.

Q: What phase is your research in and will it go beyond California?
At UCR, we’ve received a $4.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to work with other universities as the lead institution in a large project that’s looking at the entire west coast earthquake system to determine where and when earthquakes occur and how faults interact. These computer simulations involve climate models and the more specific ground motion studies to develop large scale models that will generate new state-of-the-art simulations.

Q: Why is UCR a great place to do research?
The location of UC Riverside is marvelous for Earth scientists in general and for those of us studying earthquakes. The geology is well exposed and accessible, giving us a lot of interesting opportunities for research in our own backyard.

Q: What does Living the Promise mean to you?
I greatly enjoy research, teaching and mentoring students. These activities carry a large responsibility to our community so to me, Living the Promise means having the opportunity to be here at UC Riverside to pursue dreams of mine.

James Dieterich “The location of UC Riverside is marvelous for Earth scientists and for those of us studying earthquakes; the geology is well exposed and accessible, giving us a lot of interesting opportunities for research in our own backyard.”

—James Dieterich
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