Partnership with seismological centre develops faster, more efficient data analysis

Partnership with seismological centre develops faster, more efficient data analysis

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the Centre and the International Seismological Centre has developed a new system which could significantly increase the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of the analysis of large volumes of seismological bulletin data.

The International Seismological Centre (ISC) has been collecting and verifying earthquake data for more than a century, which is used in preparing and distributing The ISC Bulletin, the definitive summary of world seismicity. Bulletin data produced by the ISC are used by thousands of seismologists worldwide to estimate seismic hazards and in tectonic studies.


Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnerships help businesses to improve their competitiveness by enabling them to work with higher education or research and technology organisations to obtain knowledge, technology or skills which they consider to be of strategic competitive importance.

The aim of this KTP was to implement a new technically-advanced system for quality assurance of large volumes of seismological bulletin data, which have increased dramatically over the last decade. The paper-based bulletin analysis system in use at the ISC, which uses bar-code scanning devices, was designed 13 years previously, and is now out-dated. Bulletin analysis involves reading a large number of event records on large-format line-printer papers, identifying errors and uncertainties by browsing the texts line-by-line, making annotations on the paper records, and entering corrections into the computer.

Each analyst uses multiple tools, ranging from pens and rulers to a keyboard for data entry, a bar code scanner for record identification and some command inputs, and a mouse for some other command inputs. As a result, the work is unnecessarily tedious and stressful which leads to a high staff turnover and consequent expense of additional repatriation, recruitment and training. It normally takes 6-12 months to train a data analyst. In addition, the management of the workflow relies on the analysts to mark up each pile off the line-printer papers with colour highlighters, and make notes on notebooks. There is no easy way to monitor the progress and provide a seamless workflow management.

The integrated software system developed during the KTP, called the Visual Bulletin Analysis System (VBAS), has been shown to significantly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of this analysis of large volumes of seismological bulletin data, and when rolled out to the whole team should significantly speed up the process. This will be confirmed through statistical analysis of the performance data during the next 12 months.

To speed up the analysis, a new working practice was developed, based on more efficient, effective and genomic workflow and dataflow management based. Visualization, analysis and interaction with the data are now integrated together in a visual analytics framework.

In addition, the project developed a set of novel visual representations for spatiotemporal seismological data and developed a task scheduling sub-system for managing and monitoring work load and workflows. A web-based gallery has also been designed to disseminate visual results to the stakeholders of the ISC.

As part of the KTP project, the team also developed a new technique resulting in a journal publication entitled "Categorical colormap optimization with visualization case studies", which will appear in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics in January 2017, and will be presented in IEEE VIS in October 2016. There is also a web-based tool, called Colourmap Hospital, for disseminating this technique to a wider user community - read more about this here.