Update: Site Characterization Project

The following lists the past, present, and future activities of the COSMOS International Guidelines for Applying Noninvasive Geophysical Methods to Characterize Seismic Site Conditions Project, and a memorial note.


With funding support from COSMOS, PG&E; and SCE, the Table of Content (ToC) and leading/contributing authors of each section for the COSMOS Noninvasive Site Characterization Guidelines were established. To acquire acceptance of the ToC and authorship from the community, Guidelines Workshops were held around (or within) the schedules of the 2015 American Geophysical Union (AGU; San Francisco, California USA), 2016 Seismological Society of America (SSA) Annual Meeting (Reno, Nevada USA), and 2016 European Seismic Commission (ESC) 35th General Assembly (Trieste, Italy). In-person attendees range from 7 to 36 participants and remote participants from 12 to 26 during any given Workshop. To foster discourse with the community about the Guidelines effort, the Guidelines Facilitation Committee also convened a series of special sessions entitled Advances in Noninvasive Approaches to Characterizing Seismic Site Conditions at both SSA and ESC meetings—the third and final session in this series with the same title is scheduled in 2017 16th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering (WCEE), and a coordinated COSMOS Workshop has also been planned (date/time yet to be determined by the WCEE).
At the most recent Workshop (ESC, Trieste, Italy), the range of topics discussed during the open session primarily focused on debate about the intended user(s) of the Guidelines. It was clear that there remain concerns about how the framework of the Guidelines should be designed with respect to the intended user(s) despite the establishment of the ToC (at the 2016 SSA-Reno 23 April Workshop). It was also clear that there was still disagreement with respect to the type of intended users of the Guidelines. The range of users considered in the discussion spans from students (various levels, beginners) to professional practitioners, as well as researchers (experts)—clients of practitioners were also included. Some notable concerns about the unintended use of the Guidelines were also discussed, e.g., exclusive use of the Guidelines in lieu of direct experience, the Guidelines as a Cookbook, and the Guidelines as an unintended measure to deny acceptance of manuscripts submitted for journal-based peer-review processes or similar types of evaluations.

Based on these and earlier discussions, the consensus is that debates about the aforementioned concerns have the potential to continue in perpetuity. Despite the merits of discourse, any further actions that do not directly yield a preliminary collection of products will potentially contribute to the premature termination of the Guidelines Project. In the interest of progress, Committee Chair Alan Yong temporarily delayed addressing the concern about the types of intended users and began developing a collection of modules (with other contributors) that can be subsequently modified to address the information necessary for an agreed upon set of intended users at a later time. The modules are, thus, intended as templates intended to serve as a guide for authors to draft their respective method based sections. The template modules in development describe the Multi-Channel Analysis of Surface Wave Method.

At the 2016 COSMOS Annual Technical Session: Moving Toward Site-specific Ground-Motion Hazards, Alan Yong and the COSMOS Guidelines Facilitation Committee were invited to present “COSMOS Site Characterization Guidelines.” This was held on 18 November 2016 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Burlingame California.

With regret, Oz Yilmaz has voluntarily withdrawn his participation (personal decision) as a co-representative of Turkey—Aysegul Askan, however, remains as the representative of Turkey. In July, Hiroshi Kawase and Rub�n Boroschek accepted the Project�s invitations to join the Committee as representatives of Japan and South America, respectively. A brief dedicated note about the passing of Committee Member Marco Mucciarelli, representative for Italy, is given at the end of this article.


On behalf of the COSMOS Guidelines Facilitation Committee, Yong has been invited to present a progress report (SA43E-05) to the 2016 American Geophysical Union entitled, “COSMOS International Guidelines for Applying Noninvasive Geophysical Techniques to Characterize Seismic Site Conditions.” This meeting will take place on 15 December 2016 at 2:45 pm at Moscone South, 307, San Francisco, California.

At the 2017 16th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering (WCEE) there will be a special session titled Advances in Noninvasive Approaches to Characterizing Seismic Site Conditions (107SS); the date, time, and location is still to be determined. Fifteen abstracts (8 invited and 7 contributed) were approved for our 16th WCEE Special Session (see link above), which is the final conference-related special session in a series of similar sessions relating to our COSMOS Guidelines Project as convened at the recent 2016 SSA Annual Meeting and the 2016 ESC-GA Sessions. As at the previous meeting/assembly, a follow-up COSMOS Workshop, focused on furthering the progress on the development of the Guidelines document, is planned. At this time, the date and location of this coordinated COSMOS-WCEE Workshop are under development with Rubén Boroschek, COSMOS Facilitation Committee Member and WCEE Scientific Committee Co-chair.

A special session has been requested for the 2017 Seismological Society of America (SSA) Annual Meeting: Geophysical Applications in Integrated Site Characterization. This SSA special session was recently proposed to the SSA local organizing committee on 30 September 2016 by COSMOS Guidelines Participants Jamey Turner and Daniel O’Connell as: Geophysical surveys are essential for characterizing seismic and variable subsurface site conditions beneath critical high-hazard aging structures, such as levees and embankment dams, along linear alignments for pipelines, and over large foundation footprints of LNG facilities and nuclear facilities. This session encompasses the broad range of geophysical approaches used to achieve site characterization objectives. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to: HVSR, SPAC, SASW, MAM, MASW, IMASW, ReMi, down hole and cross hole seismic, etc; as applied to seismic site characterization, to estimate seismic velocities, site responses, structural responses, soil-structure interactions, fault characterization, marine paleoseismology, IBC Site Class, liquefaction susceptibility, and identifying voids associated with karsting and mining. Advances in passive and active seismic sourcing and acquisition approaches are of interest. Also invited are updates on the Consortium of Organizations of Strong Motion Observation Systems (COSMOS) and the Development of the International Guidelines for the Application of Non-Invasive Geophysical Techniques to Characterize Seismic Site Conditions. Discussion of the challenges of meeting end-user expectations and objectives is encouraged.


Lastly, it is with much sadness to report that Marco Mucciarelli passed on 7 November. Marco was not only a key contributor to our current efforts—he was a reliable colleague, and of all, a good friend. He will truly be missed. On behalf of the COSMOS community, our deepest condolences are sent forth to his wife Maria and family. Here is the INGV link memorializing Marco.


Wilfred D. Iwan, President
California Institute of Technology
Principal Field(s): Seismic Safety, Structural Dynamics, Earthquake Ground Motion, and Dynamics and Vibration

Power photo
Jon Heintz, Vice President
Applied Technology Council
Principal Field(s): Structural Engineering, Seismic Evaluation and Retrofit, Performance-Based Engineering, Natural Hazards Mitigation, Post-Disaster Investigations, and Codes and Standards Development.

Steidl photo
Jamison Steidl, Secretary
University of California, Santa Barbara
Principal Field(s): Site Response, Strong Ground Motion, Engineering Seismology, Borehole Seismology, Earthquake Source Mechanics and Dynamics.

Wells photo
Donald Wells, Treasurer
AMEC Foster Wheeler, Senior Geologist
Principal Field(s): Geotechnical Engineering Earthquake Engineering

Ruben Boroschek
Univerisity of Chile
C.B. Crouse
URS Corporation, Inc.
Mclaren photo
Marcia McLaren
Retired Principal Seismologist
PG&E; Company

Robert L. Nigbor
University of California, Los Angeles
John Parrish
California Geological Survey
Savage photo
William U. (Woody) Savage, Vice-President
U.S. Geological Survey, Emeritus
Principal Field(s): Seismic Hazards Evaluations, Seismic Risk Management for Lifelines and Critical Facilities

U.S. Geological Survey