Improving Earthquake Stress Drop Measurements – What can we Really Resolve?

Thursday, 17 December 2015: 14:10
305 (Moscone South)
Rachel E Abercrombie1, Stephen C Bannister2 and Bill Fry2, (1)Boston University, Boston, MA, United States, (2)GNS Science-Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Earthquake stress drop is fundamental to understanding the physics of the rupture process. Although it is superficially simple to calculate an estimate of stress drop from the corner frequency of the radiated spectrum, it is much harder to be certain that measurements are reliable and accurate. The same is true of other measurements of stress drop and radiated energy. The large number of studies of earthquake stress drop, the high variability in results (~0.1-100 MPa), the large uncertainties, and the ongoing scaling controversy are evidence for this. We investigate the resolution and uncertainties of stress drops calculated using an empirical Green’s function (EGF) approach.

Earthquakes in 3 sequences at Parkfield, California are recorded by multiple borehole stations and have abundant smaller earthquakes to use as EGFs (Abercrombie, 2014). The earthquakes in the largest magnitude cluster (M~2.1) exhibit clear temporal variation of stress drop. Independent studies obtained a similar pattern implying that it is resolvable for these well-recorded, simple sources. The borehole data reveal a similar temporal pattern for another sequence, not resolvable in an earlier study using surface recordings. The earthquakes in the third sequence have complex sources; corner frequency measurements for this sequence are highly variable and poorly resolved.

We use the earthquakes in the first cluster to quantify the uncertainties likely to arise in less optimal settings. The limited signal bandwidth and the quality of the EGF assumption are major sources of error. Averaging across multiple stations improves the resolution, as does using multiple good EGFs (Abercrombie, 2015).

We adapt the approach to apply to larger data sets. We focus on New Zealand, with the aim of resolving stress drop variability in a variety of tectonic settings. We investigate stacking over stations and multiple EGFs, and compare earthquakes (M~3-6) from both the overlying and the subducting plates.