Ground motion attenuation during M 7.1 Darfield and M 6.2 Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquakes and performance of global predictive models

Seismological Research Letters
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The M 7.1 Darfield earthquake occurred 40 km west of Christchurch (New Zealand) on 4 September 2010. Six months after, the city was struck again with an M 6.2 event on 22 February local time (21 February UTC). These events resulted in significant damage to infrastructure in the city and its suburbs. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the performance of global predictive models (GMPEs) using the strong motion data obtained from these two events to improve future seismic hazard assessment and building code provisions for the Canterbury region.

The Canterbury region is located on the boundary between the Pacific and Australian plates; its surface expression is the active right lateral Alpine fault (Berryman et al. 1993). Beneath the North Island and the north South Island, the Pacific plate subducts obliquely under the Australian plate, while at the southwestern part of the South Island, a reverse process takes place. Although New Zealand has experienced several major earthquakes in the past as a result of its complex seismotectonic environment (e.g., M 7.1 1888 North Canterbury, M 7.0 1929 Arthur's Pass, and M 6.2 1995 Cass), there was no evidence of prior seismic activity in Christchurch and its surroundings before the September event. The Darfield and Christchurch earthquakes occurred along the previously unmapped Greendale fault in the Canterbury basin, which is covered by Quaternary alluvial deposits (Forsyth et al. 2008). In Figure 1, site conditions of the Canterbury epicentral area are depicted on a VS30 map. This map was determined on the basis of topographic slope calculated from a 1-km grid using the method of Allen and Wald (2007). Also shown are the locations of strong motion stations.

The Darfield event was generated as a result of a complex rupture mechanism; the recordings and geodetic data reveal that earthquake consists of three sub-events (Barnhart et al. 2011, page 815 of this issue). The first event was due to rupturing of a blind reverse fault with M 6.2, followed by a second event (M 6.9), releasing the largest portion of the energy on the right-lateral Greendale fault. The third sub-event (M 5.7) is due to a reverse fault with a right-lateral component (Holden et al. 2011). The Christchurch earthquake occurred on an oblique thrust fault. The comparison of spectral acceleration values at stations near Christchurch reveals that the second event produced much larger amplitudes of shaking than the Darfield event due to its proximity to the epicenter. Both events resulted in noticeably large amplitudes of the vertical motion, often exceeding horizontal motion in the near-fault area. The vertical motions, showing asymmetric acceleration traces and pulses, reached 1.26 g during the Darfield earthquake and 2.2 g during the Christchurch event. These events were recorded by more than 100 strong motion stations operated by the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences ( Using the processed data from these stations, peak ground acceleration (PGA) and 5%-damped spectral acceleration values at 0.3, 1, and 3 s are used for performance evaluation of the global ground motion predictive equations (GMPEs). The selected GMPEs are the Next Generation Attenuation (NGA) models of Abrahamson and Silva (2008), Boore and Atkinson (2008), Campbell and Bozorgnia (2008), and Chiou and Youngs (2008). The Graizer and Kalkan (2007, 2009) model, which is based on the NGA project database, is also included. These GMPEs are abbreviated respectively as AS08, BA08, CB08, CY08, and GK07. Because they have been used widely for seismic hazard analysis for crustal earthquakes, their performance assessment becomes a critical issue especially for immediate response and recovery planning after major events. The occurrence of aftershocks similar to the Christchurch event will most probably control seismic hazard in the broader area, as confirmed by the recent M 6.0 event on June 13, 2011.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Ground motion attenuation during M 7.1 Darfield and M 6.2 Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquakes and performance of global predictive models
Series title Seismological Research Letters
DOI 10.1785/gssrl.82.6.866
Volume 82
Issue 6
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Seismological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 866
Last page 874
Country New Zealand
City Christchurch, Darfield
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