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Seismic Waveform Modeling of Natural Hazards and Sharp Structural Boundaries


Lai, Voon Hui (2020) Seismic Waveform Modeling of Natural Hazards and Sharp Structural Boundaries. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/5PQG-ST75.


Seismic waveform modeling is a powerful tool for seismologists to learn about the Earth’s dynamics, either how a natural hazard evolves with time, or the long-term deformation process governed by fine-scale structures along boundaries inside the Earth. Knowing that the recorded seismograms reflect the cumulative effects of the source, the earth structure, and the instrument response, I carefully study the characters of the seismograms such as the arrival time, amplitude, frequency content, and multipathing, for several settings, with the goal of improving our description of either the source or the structure.

Part 1 focuses on source characterization for non-earthquake natural hazards. I perform moment tensor inversions for the large seismic events at the Kilauea summit to infer the triggering mechanisms for the explosive eruptions and caldera collapse during the 2018 eruption sequence. The addition of infrasound data is crucial to resolve the uncertainties in the moment tensor solutions, particularly the depth and the necessity of the isotropic component. I also present a new mechanistic model to describe the seismic signal from debris flow and apply to the 2018 Montecito debris flow in which key parameters such as boulder size and flow rate and their evolution during the event can be determined using a single seismic station.

Part 2 consists of three studies spanning from the crust to the core, where forward waveform modeling is used to improve our understanding of the sharp structural boundaries and their role in observed ground motion and long-term dynamics. Numerical simulation and dense array analysis are used to model the direct effect of shallow basin structures in Los Angeles on shaking duration and reveal the importance of basin edges and attenuation model for predicting ground motion during large shallow ruptures. I also identify a strong velocity contrast in the lower crust – upper mantle structure across the San Andreas plate boundary system and, given velocity is a proxy to lithospheric strength, the sharp contrast can have a significant role in modulating the long-term plate deformation. Lastly, we observe strong waveform anomalies at the edge of the Pacific Large Low Shear Velocity Province (LLSVP) which have great importance in governing deep mantle convection. To fit the observation, I propose a model of ultra-low velocity zone (ULVZ), plume and slab interacting at the edge of the LLSVP. The configuration and location of this ULVZ-plume-slab interaction is important in inferring the mechanism behind plume generation which gives rise to the Hawaii-Emperor Seamount chain.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Waveform modeling; seismology; volcano; basin; ground motion; plume; San Andreas; debris flow; Kilauea; Hawaii
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Helmberger, Donald V. (co-advisor)
  • Zhan, Zhongwen (co-advisor)
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Thesis Committee:
  • Clayton, Robert W. (chair)
  • Jackson, Jennifer M.
  • Gurnis, Michael C.
  • Helmberger, Donald V.
  • Zhan, Zhongwen
Defense Date:18 November 2019
Non-Caltech Author Email:vhlai.seismo (AT)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Southern California Earthquake Center18128
USGS Earthquake Hazards Program AwardG15AP00029
USGS Cooperative Agreement G14AC00109
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:01102020-152646406
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Ch. 3 adapted for Ch. 5
Lai, Voon Hui0000-0002-0738-0187
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13615
Deposited By: Voon Hui Lai
Deposited On:17 Jan 2020 21:49
Last Modified:08 Jul 2024 19:11

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