Many seismologists have looked at the 26 January 2001 Bhuj earthquake as a key modern calibration event that could be used to improve estimates of magnitudes of large historic mainshocks in stable continental regions. Since no instrumental data are available for important historic events such as the 1819 Allah Bund, India, and the 1811-1812 New Madrid, central U.S. mainshocks, calibration hinges on comparisons of the macroseismic effects of these earthquakes with those of comparable modern earthquakes for which a reliable, instrumentally determined moment magnitude is available. However, although such a comparison is conceptually straightforward, in practice it is complicated by potentially significant inconsistencies in methods used to quantify macroseismic effects in different regions and/or times. For the Bhuj earthquake, extensive intensity data sets have been compiled and published from both media accounts and detailed direct surveys. Comparing the two provides a quantification of the previously suspected media bias, whereby earthquake effects can be exaggerated in media accounts. This bias is a strong function of intensity level, with substantial bias at the highest shaking levels and significantly less bias at low intensities. Because only sparse documentary data are in general available for older historic earthquakes, the results of this study suggest that their inferred intensity distributions might be similarly biased. We further use the survey-based intensity values to develop a new relationship between intensities and ground motions.
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Quantifying the media bias in intensity surveys: Lessons from the 2001 Bhuj, India, earthquake