Laboratory earthquake forecasting: A machine learning competition

Paul A. Johnson, Bertrand Rouet-Leduc, Laura J. Pyrak-Nolte, Gregory C. Beroza, Chris J. Marone, Claudia Hulbert, Addison Howard, Philipp Singer, Dmitry Gordeev, Dimosthenis Karaflos, Corey J. Levinson, Pascal Pfeiffer, Kin Ming Puk, Walter Reade

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Earthquake prediction, the long-sought holy grail of earthquake science, continues to confound Earth scientists. Could we make advances by crowdsourcing, drawing from the vast knowledge and creativity of the machine learning (ML) community? We used Google’s ML competition platform, Kaggle, to engage the worldwide ML community with a competition to develop and improve data analysis approaches on a forecasting problem that uses laboratory earthquake data. The competitors were tasked with predicting the time remaining before the next earthquake of successive laboratory quake events, based on only a small portion of the laboratory seismic data. The more than 4,500 participating teams created and shared more than 400 computer programs in openly accessible notebooks. Complementing the now well-known features of seismic data that map to fault criticality in the laboratory, the winning teams employed unexpected strategies based on rescaling failure times as a fraction of the seismic cycle and comparing input distribution of training and testing data. In addition to yielding scientific insights into fault processes in the laboratory and their relation with the evolution of the statistical properties of the associated seismic data, the competition serves as a pedagogical tool for teaching ML in geophysics. The approach may provide a model for other competitions in geosciences or other domains of study to help engage the ML community on problems of significance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2011362118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 2 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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