The peak accelerations recorded on alluvial sites during the Northridge earthquake were about 50% larger than the median value predicted by current empirical attenuation relations at distances less than about 30 km. This raises the question of whether the ground motions from the Northridge earthquake are anomalous for thrust events or are representative of ground motions expected in future thrust earthquakes. Since the empirical data base contains few strong-motion records close to large-thrust earthquakes, it is difficult to assess whether the Northridge ground motions are anomalous based on recorded data alone. For this reason, we have used a broadband strong-motion simulation procedure to help assess whether the ground motions were anomalous. The simulation procedure has been validated against a large body of strong-motion data from California earthquakes, and so we expect it to produce accurate estimates of ground motions for any given rupture scenario, including blind-thrust events for which no good precedent existed in the strong-motion data base until the occurrence of the Northridge earthquake. The ground motions from the Northridge earthquake and our simulations of these ground motions have a similar pattern of departure from empirical attenuation relations for thrust earthquakes: the peak accelerations are at about the 84th percentile level for distances within 20 to 30 km and follow the median level for larger distances. This same pattern of departure from empirical attenuation relations was obtained in our simulations of the peak accelerations of an Elysian Park blind-thrust event prior to the occurrence of the Northridge earthquake. Since we are able to model this pattern with broadband simulations, and had done so before the Northridge earthquake occurred, this suggests that the Northridge strong-motion records are not anomalous and are representative of ground motions close to thrust faults. Accordingly, it seems appropriate to include these recordings in strong-motion data sets that are used to develop empirical ground-motion attenuation relations for thrust faults and to use this augmented data set as the basis for evaluating the need for modifications in design coefficients in the seismic provisions of building codes.
Additional publication details
Implications of the Northridge earthquake for strong ground motions from thrust faults