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The Swiss Seismological Service (SED) at ETH Zurich is the federal agency responsible for monitoring earthquakes in Switzerland and its neighboring countries and for assessing Switzerland’s seismic hazard. When an earthquake happens, the SED informs the public, authorities, and the media about the earthquake’s location, magnitude, and possible consequences. The activities of the SED are integrated in the federal action plan for earthquake precaution.

The SED is a nondepartmental unit of ETH Zurich and reports to the Vice President for Research and Economic Relations. It works in close collaboration with the Institute of Geophysics and the Department of Earth Sciences. The director of the SED, Stefan Wiemer is also a professor of seismology at the Department of Earth Sciences.

There are currently approximately 70 people employed by the SED in various capacities, among them around 20 PhD students. The budget for the core business amounts to 5 million Swiss Francs, 3 million of which are provided by the federal government and 2 million are provided by third parties.

SED Logo

The Swiss Seismological Service’s wide range of duties and activities are the result of statutory mandates that are mostly set out in Federal Council rulings. Its main tasks include:

  • Monitoring of seismic activity in Switzerland and its neighbouring countries
  • Assessment of seismic hazard in Switzerland
  • Warning and informing the authorities, the public, and the media
  • Research and teaching
  • Swiss involvement in the international monitoring of the nuclear test ban treaty

In addition to these main tasks the SED provides scientific services and runs research programs on relevant subjects, does public relations and contributes to teaching at ETH Zurich. Knowledge gained by our research efforts and the methods developed in the process are in turn influencing the services offered by the SED.

The Swiss Seismological Service at the ETH is closely associated with the Institute of Geophysics and the Department of Earth Science at ETH Zurich, but operates as an off-department entity under direct control of the Vice President for Research and Economic Relations. A steering committee was created to guarantee close cooperation within the ETH.

The activities of the Swiss Seismological Service are divided into four sections:

Earthquake Monitoring

The Earthquake Monitoring section includes the installation, operation and maintenance of the Swiss seismological network and the earthquake characterization and alerting procedures. Additionally this section is responsible for the deployment of temporary networks, for example for monitoring of geothermal projects, and for organizing international waveform and parameter data sharing.

Earthquake Analysis

The Earthquake Analysis section covers the analysis and interpretation of recorded wave forms and seisms. Data recorded by the Swiss Seismological Service (SED) and its counterparts elsewhere form the basis for numerous research and service projects. For example, such data are essential for analysing the structure and composition of the Alps and their foothills, characterising fault properties, understanding the physics of earthquakes and seismological statistics, improving earthquake predictability or for distinguishing natural from induced earthquakes and those caused by nuclear explosions.

Earthquake Hazard and Risk Assessment

The activities of the Earthquake Hazard and Risk Assessment section are focused on the goal of defining the earthquake hazard and risk in Switzerland. This understanding helps to guide the design of building codes that reduce earthquake related damages.

Support and Special Projects

The Support and Special Projects section acts as the support unit for the other activities. It covers a wide range of activities fields of communication, administration and technical tasks.

In addition the SED has several teaching engagements and staff supervises master students and doctorial candidates.

The remit of ETH Zurich's Swiss Seismological Service (SED) is laid down in the following laws, Federal Council decrees and ordinances:

2015 On 21 January 2015, the Swiss Federal Council approved the application for Switzerland's participation in the second GEM Working Programme.
2013 Federal council resolution of January, 30, 2013, concerning earthquake precaution measures taken by the federal government for the period 2013 – 2016.
2010 Regulation of October 20, 2010, concerning the organization of ABC- and natural disaster operations.
2010 Regulation of August 18, 2010, concerning warnings and alerts.
2010 Federal council resolution of May 26, 2010, concerning participation in the international research project “Global Earthquake Model (GEM)“
2009 Federal council resolution of February 18th, 2009, concerning the renewal and financing of the Swiss strong-motion monitoring network.
2009 Federal council resolution of April 1, 2009, concerning earthquake precaution measures taken by the federal government for the period 2009 – 2012.
1996 Federal council resolution of September 16, 1996, concerning the verification of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and cooperation with the CTBTO.
1990 Federal council resolution of August 29, 1990, concerning the establishment of two national earthquake monitoring networks.
1956 Federal law (SR 414.113) of December 7, 1956, which established the SED at ETH Zurich and tasked it with monitoring earthquake activity in Switzerland, conducting and publishing research on earthquakes and contributing to international seismological projects.
1914 Federal council resolution of July 8, 1914, concerning the salary of staff working at the seismological service.
1913 Federal law of December 19, 1913, concerning the extension of duties of the Swiss Meteorological Service (Meteorologische Zentralanstalt)

 

On the basis of these laws and resolutions an agreement between the ETH Zurich, the Department of Earth Sciences, and the SED has been reached. This agreement specifies the structure and financing of the SED within the ETH Zurich framework.