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Source Characteristics of Recent and Historic Earthquakes in Central and Southern California: Results from Forward Modeling


Bent, Allison Lyn (1990) Source Characteristics of Recent and Historic Earthquakes in Central and Southern California: Results from Forward Modeling. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/wyry-7c13.


The long- and short-period body waves of a number of moderate earthquakes occurring in central and southern California recorded at regional (200-1400 km) and teleseismic (> 30°) distances are modeled to obtain the source parameters-focal mechanism, depth, seismic moment, and source time history. The modeling is done in the time domain using a forward modeling technique based on ray summation. A simple layer over a half space velocity model is used with additional layers being added if necessary - for example, in a basin with a low velocity lid.

The earthquakes studied fall into two geographic regions: 1) the western Transverse Ranges, and 2) the western Imperial Valley. Earthquakes in the western Transverse Ranges include the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake, several offshore earthquakes that occurred between 1969 and 1981, and aftershocks to the 1983 Coalinga earthquake (these actually occurred north of the Transverse Ranges but share many characteristics with those that occurred there). These earthquakes are predominantly thrust faulting events with the average strike being east-west, but with many variations. Of the six earthquakes which had sufficient short-period data to accurately determine the source time history, five were complex events. That is, they could not be modeled as a simple point source, but consisted of two or more subevents. The subevents of the Whittier Narrows earthquake had different focal mechanisms. In the other cases, the subevents appear to be the same, but small variations could not be ruled out.

The recent Imperial Valley earthquakes modeled include the two 1987 Superstition Hills earthquakes and the 1969 Coyote Mountain earthquake. All are strike-slip events, and the second 1987 earthquake is a complex event With non-identical subevents.

In all the earthquakes studied, and particularly the thrust events, constraining the source parameters required modeling several phases and distance ranges. Teleseismic P waves could provide only approximate solutions. Pₙₗ waves were probably the most useful phase in determining the focal mechanism, with additional constraints supplied by the SH waves when available. Contamination of the SH waves by shear-coupled PL waves was a frequent problem. Short-period data were needed to obtain the source time function.

In addition to the earthquakes mentioned above, several historic earthquakes were also studied. Earthquakes that occurred before the existence of dense local and worldwide networks are difficult to model due to the sparse data set. It has been noticed that earthquakes that occur near each other often produce similar waveforms implying similar source parameters. By comparing recent well studied earthquakes to historic earthquakes in the same region, better constraints can be placed on the source parameters of the historic events.

The Lompoc earthquake (M=7) of 1927 is the largest offshore earthquake to occur in California this century. By direct comparison of waveforms and amplitudes with the Coalinga and Santa Lucia Banks earthquakes, the focal mechanism (thrust faulting on a northwest striking fault) and long-period seismic moment (10²⁶ dyne cm) can be obtained. The S-P travel times are consistent with an offshore location, rather than one in the Hosgri fault zone.

Historic earthquakes in the western Imperial Valley were also studied. These events include the 1942 and 1954 earthquakes. The earthquakes were relocated by comparing S-P and R-S times to recent earthquakes. It was found that only minor changes in the epicenters were required but that the Coyote Mountain earthquake may have been more severely mislocated. The waveforms as expected indicated that all the events were strike-slip. Moment estimates were obtained by comparing the amplitudes of recent and historic events at stations which recorded both. The 1942 event was smaller than the 1968 Borrego Mountain earthquake although some previous studies suggested the reverse. The 1954 and 1937 earthquakes had moments close to the expected value. An aftershock of the 1942 earthquake appears to be larger than previously thought.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Geology, Geophysics, Source characteristics, historic earthquakes, California, forward modeling
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. (advisor)
  • Kanamori, Hiroo (co-advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Kanamori, Hiroo (chair)
  • Goldreich, Peter Martin
  • Helmberger, Donald V.
  • Harkrider, David G.
  • Tanimoto, Toshiro
Defense Date:22 May 1990
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:03202015-092027205
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8797
Deposited By: Dan Anguka
Deposited On:20 Mar 2015 16:49
Last Modified:19 Jan 2022 00:46

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