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Journal Article

Effective uncertainty visualization for aftershock forecast maps


Schneider,  Max
2.6 Seismic Hazard and Risk Dynamics, 2.0 Geophysics, Departments, GFZ Publication Database, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum;

McDowell,  Michelle
External Organizations;

Guttorp,  Peter
External Organizations;

Steel,  E. Ashley
External Organizations;

Fleischhut,  Nadine
External Organizations;

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Schneider, M., McDowell, M., Guttorp, P., Steel, E. A., Fleischhut, N. (2022): Effective uncertainty visualization for aftershock forecast maps. - Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (NHESS), 22, 4, 1499-1518.

Cite as: https://gfzpublic.gfz-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_5011996
Earthquake models can produce aftershock forecasts, which have recently been released to lay audiences. While visualization literature suggests that displaying forecast uncertainty can improve how forecast maps are used, research on uncertainty visualization is missing from earthquake science. We designed a pre-registered online experiment to test the effectiveness of three visualization techniques for displaying aftershock forecast maps and their uncertainty. These maps showed the forecasted number of aftershocks at each location for a week following a hypothetical mainshock, along with the uncertainty around each location’s forecast. Three different uncertainty visualizations were produced: (1) forecast and uncertainty maps adjacent to one another; (2) the forecast map depicted in a color scheme, with the uncertainty shown by the transparency of the color; and (3) two maps that showed the lower and upper bounds of the forecast distribution at each location. We compared the three uncertainty visualizations using tasks that were specifically designed to address broadly applicable and user-generated communication goals. We compared task responses between participants using uncertainty visualizations and using the forecast map shown without its uncertainty (the current practice). Participants completed two map-reading tasks that targeted several dimensions of the readability of uncertainty visualizations. Participants then performed a Comparative Judgment task, which demonstrated whether a visualization was successful in reaching two key communication goals: indicating where many aftershocks and no aftershocks are likely (sure bets) and where the forecast is low but the uncertainty is high enough to imply potential risk (surprises). All visualizations performed equally well in the goal of communicating sure bet situations. But the visualization with lower and upper bounds was substantially better than the other designs at communicating surprises. These results have implications for the visual communication of forecast uncertainty both within and beyond earthquake science.