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Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Vol. 69, No. 4, pp.

1209-1214, August 1979


A MODI FI ED FORM OF THE GUTENBERG- RI CHTER
MAGNI TUDE- FREQUENCY RELATI ON
BY J ORGE LOMNI TZ- ADLER AND CI NNA LOMNI TZ
ABSTRACT
A st ochast i c model of st rai n accumul at i on and r el ease at pl at e boundar i es i s
pr oposed. The model l eads t o t he gener al i zed Gut enber g- Ri cht er r el at i on
In G(x) = const ant - B exp (ax)
wher e G is t he cumul at i ve e x c e e d e n c e of a magni t ude x. Thi s r el at i on t ends
asympt ot i cal l y t o t he or i gi nal Gut enber g- Ri cht er r el at i on in t he l ow- magni t ude
range; at hi gh magni t udes it pr ovi des est i mat es of t he pr obabi l i t y of occur r ence
whi ch are si gni f i cant l y mor e r eal i st i c t han t he Gut enber g- Ri cht er rel at i on. Ex-
cel l ent a gr e e me nt i s obt ai ned wi t h t he dat a of t he Chi nese e a r t hqua k e cat al og
cover i ng a t i me per i od of 2 , 7 5 3 year s.
INTRODUCTION
In this paper we propose a simple stochastic model which leads to a modified
form of the Gutenberg-Richter magnitude distribution (1944, 1954)
log GM(X) = a -- bx (1)
whi ch is wi del y used for t he purpose of est i mat i ng t he likelihood of occurrence of
ear t hquakes above a specified magni t ude level. Her e GM(X) is t he cumul at i ve
exceedence frequency of an event of magni t ude x; thus, 10" - GM(X) is t he non-
normalized cumul at i ve frequency as commonl y defined in statistics.
Criticism of equat i on (1) has consi st ent l y cent ered around its unsat i sfact ory
behavi or in t he high magni t ude range (Esteva, 1975; Lomnitz, 1974). Ear t hquake
engineers have not ed t he fact t hat t he formul a diverges when a change of variable,
using energy i nst ead of magni t ude, is i nt roduced. The t endency t o overest i mat e t he
likelihood of hi gh-energy event s t hus appears t o be bui l t into t he formula. Some
geophysi ci st s have argued t hat t he magni t ude scale ceases t o be physically mean-
ingful at ver y large magni t udes, t hus providing a nat ural rest ri ct i on on t he validity
of t he Gut enber g- Ri cht er rel at i on (Bolt, 1970; Otsuka, 1973; Chi nnery and Nort h,
1975). However, t he Ri cht er scale cont i nues t o be used by seismologists and
nonseismologists according to its original definition; thus, users will continue to
requi re pract i cal met hods for est i mat i ng t he recurrence of large-magnitude events.
Some i nvest i gat ors have pr oposed an al t ernat i ve approach, by introducing a
maxi mum magni t ude Ms for each region (Cornell and Vanmarcke, 1969; Cornell,
1968, 1971; Yegulalp and Kuo, 1974; Smith, 1976; Caput o, 1978). The pr obl em wi t h
this appr oach resides in t he difficulty of est i mat i ng Ms; at present, no reliable
pr ocedur e for est i mat i ng maxi mum magni t udes is known.
A MODEL
Consi der an act i ve pl at e boundary, and suppose t hat ear t hquakes occur indepen-
dent l y at random, so t hat t he sequence of occurrences forms a Poi sson process in
t i me wi t h mean i nt eroccurrence t i me ~o. We follow t he maj or i t y of aut hor s in
1209
1210 J ORGE LOMNI TZ- ADLER AND CI NNA LOMNI TZ
assuming t hat the motion along the plate boundary may be taken as stationary in
time.
Let us assume t hat the strain along the boundary accumulates at a constant rate
k, and drops to a constant base level S after each event (Figure 1). These assumptions
are necessarily oversimplified, since the case of i ndependent occurrence in time
must be studied before introducing any refinements into the model. Thus, the
potential slip ha accumulated prior to an event; this is simply proportional to the
accumulation time r which precedes the event
h o = k r . ( 2 )
We define our region in such a way t hat the ratio of seismic-to-aseismic slip may be
t aken as a regional constant. Then, if the seismic moment Mo is proportional to the
fault slip (Brune and Lomnitz, 1974), we may write for any given event
M0 = Cho = Ck' r (3)
T "~{
v
FIG. 1. t
where C is a regional constant.
As the occurrences of events in time form a Poisson process, it follows t hat the
interoccurrence times are exponentially distributed
1
f ~(x) = -- exp ( - X # o ) , (4)
TO
where f~ is the probability density function of ~. Introducing the change of variable
defined by equation (3) we find
1
fMo(X) = - - exp ( - x / C k r o ) (5)
TO
A NEW MAGNITUDE-FREQUENCY RELATION 1211
where fMo is the probability density function of Mo.
Now, the seismic moment is related to the Richter magnitude M through an
empirical relation of the form
In Mo -- aM + fl (6)
where the parameters a and fl vary from region to region. Introducing into equation
(5) we obtain the magnitude distribution
fM(X) = fMo [exp (aX + f i ) ] d Mo / d M
_ a__Q_Qexp [ a x - B exp(ax)] (7)
TO
where fM(X) is the probability density function of M, and
and
B -- exp (f l )/ CK~' o (8)
Q -- exp (fi). (9)
The cumulative exceedence frequency may now be obtained as follows
GM(X) = [M( X) dx = C K exp [ - B exp (ax)]
x
(lO)
or, taking logarithms of both sides,
In GM(X) = A - B exp (ax) (11)
where A = In CK. This new equation is to be compared with the Gutenberg-Richter
relation, equation (1).
COMPARISON WITH THE GUTENBERG-RICHTER RELATION
A relevant property of the Gutenberg-Richter relation is its invariance under a
transformation of the form
x ' =x - X o (12)
where Xo is some arbitrary threshold magnitude. This property is important because
the Richter magnitude is a relative scale, as the zero was arbitrarily fixed. In
practice, xo is taken as the detection threshold for the sample under consideration.
Introducing into equation (11) we find
In VM( X' ) ---- A - B exp axo exp ax'. (13)
Now, we may expand equation (13) as follows
l nGM( x' ) =A- Be xpa xo 1 + ~ + ~ + . . . . (14)
1212 J OR GE L OMNI T Z - ADL E R AND CI NNA L OMNI T Z
In t he range 0 < ax' < 1 we may neglect t he t erms of order great er t han 1, t hus
recoveri ng t he Gut enber g- Ri cht er equat i on. In ot her words, over t he l ow-magni t ude
range t he modified magni t ude-frequency rel at i on [equat i on (11)] approaches asymp-
t ot i cal l y a Gut enber g- Ri cht er relation wi t h an equi val ent b-value
b = aBe "x log e. (15)
Thus, for small magni t udes t he Gut enber g- Ri cht er rel at i on is a good approxi mat i on
to ours.
At hi gher magni t udes our rel at i on yields syst emat i cal l y lower val ues of G t han
t he original Gut enber g- Ri cht er relation. The rat e at whi ch t he new relation falls off
wi t h reference t o t he linear logarithmic fit is governed by t he positive par amet er a.
Hence t he val ue of a is a measur e of t he i nadequacy of t he original Gut enberg-
Ri cht er equat i on t o fit dat a in t he hi gh-magni t ude range.
G ",,
0 . 3 -
0 . 2 -
0 . 1 -
I
6 . 5
0 . 0 5
0 . 0 4
0 . 0 3
0 . 0 2
0. 01
0 . 0 0 5
In G = K- - e ~M
a =0. 17
G& R
1 I 1 I ' " I
7. 0 7. 5 8 . 0 8 . 5 9. 0 M
FIG. 2.
A numeri cal compari son bet ween t he t wo magni t ude-frequency relations is shown
in Fi gure 2. The dat a for t hi s compari son were t aken from t he Cat al ogue of Chinese
eart hquakes, 780 B.C. t o 1973 A.D. (Academi a Sinica, 1974). Thi s catalog cont ai ns
629 ent ri es (Tabl e 1) for a t hreshol d magni t ude x0 = 6.0; it is t he longest publ i shed
cat al og of historical ear t hquakes in any region. The figure shows t hat equat i on (11)
provi des a significantly bet t er fit t han equat i on (1) for t hi s dat a set. The i mproved
fit at magni t udes in excess of 7.0 is part i cul arl y rel evant in view of t he critical use of
ear t hquake frequency dat a at high magni t udes in t he est i mat i on of ear t hquake risk
and ot her sensitive engineering applications.
DI S C US S I ON
Ther e is wi despread agr eement on t he need for modifying t he original Gut enberg-
Ri cht er rel at i on in order t o account for observed di screpanci es at high magni t udes.
A NEW MAGNI TUDE- FREQUENCY RELATION
TABLE 1
CATALOG OF CHINESE EARTHQUAKES, 780 B.C. TO
1973 A.D.
Magnitude Number of Exceedences G
6.0 629 1.0000
6.1 420 0.6677
6.2 408 0.6486
6.3 317 0.5040
6.4 309 0.4913
6.5 302 0.4801
6.6 186 0.2957
6.7 181 0.2878
6.8 118 0.1876
6.9 118 0.1876
7.0 113 0.1797
7.1 113 0.1797
7.2 74 0.1176
7.3 50 0.0795
7.4 48 0.0763
7.5 47 0.0747
7.6 24 0.0382
7.7 23 0.0366
7.8 23 0.0366
7.9 18 0.0286
8.0 17 O.0270
8.1 17 0.0270
8.2 4 0.0064
8.3 4 0.0064
8.4 4 0.0064
8.5 3 0.0048
8.6 3 0.0048
8.7 0 0.0000
1213
Our pr oposed modification, equat i on (11), provi des an adequat e fit to available
magni t ude- f r equency dat a over ext ended peri ods of t i me (Figure 2).
A pl ausi bl e i mpr ovement of t he present model may be suggest ed by subst i t ut i ng
r andom fl uct uat i ons in strain accumul at i on rates, and in t he residual strain levels,
for t he const ant s K and S f eat ur ed in our model. Numeri cal experiments, however,
show t hat this i mpr oved model yields essentially t he same di st ri but i on for magni-
t udes as t he simpler model di scussed in this paper.
In conclusion, t he sawt oot h model shown in Figure 1 generat es a di st ri but i on
whi ch adequat el y descri bes t he available magni t ude-frequency data.
REFERENCES
Academia Sinica (1974). Catalogue of great earthquakes in China, 780 B.C. to 1973 A.D. (in Chinese),
Inst. Geophys., Peking, 31 pp.
Bolt, B. A. (1970). Causes of earthquakes, in Earthquake Engineering, R. L. Wiegel, Editor, Prentice
Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 21-45.
Brune, J. N. and C. Lomnitz (1974). Recent seismological developments relating to earthquake hazard,
Geofis. Intern., Mexico, 14, 49-63.
Caputo, M. (1978). The distribution of the faults and the maximum magnitude of a seismic region, Proc.
1976 Friuli Eart hquake and Antiseismic Design of Nuclear Installations, CNEN, Rome, 709-736.
Chinnery, M. A. and R. G. North (1975). The frequency of very large earthquakes, ScienCe 109, 1197-
1198.
Cornell, C. A. (1968). Engineering seismic risk analysis, Bull. Seism. Soc. Am. 58, 1583-1606.
1214 J ORGE LOMNI TZ- ADLER AND CI NNA LOMNITZ
Cornel], C. A. (1971). Probabilistic analysis of damage to st ruct ures under seismic loads, in Dynamic
Waves in Civil Engineering, D. A. Howells, Editor, J ohn Wiley, London.
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Earthquake Eng., 4th, Santiago, I, A- I , 69-83.
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Gutenberg, B. and C. F. Ri cht er (1944). Fr equency of eart hquakes in California, Bull. Seism. Soc. Am.
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Gutenberg, B. and C. F. Ri cht er (1954). Seismicity of the Earth and Associated Phenomena, Pri ncet on
Uni versi t y Press, Princeton, NJ, 310 pp.
Lomnitz, C. (1974). Global Tectonics and Earthquake Risk, Elsevier, Amst erdam, 320 pp.
Otsuka, M. {1973). Cut off of seismic energy, J. Phys. Earth (Tokyo) 21, 119-123.
Smith, S. W. (1976). Det er mi nat i on of maxi mum eart hquake magnitude, Geophys. Res. Letters 3, 351-
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Yegulalp, T. M. and J. T. Kuo (1974). St at i st i cal prediction of t he occurrence of maxi mum magni t ude
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INSTITUTO DE INVESTIGACIONES EN MATEMATICAS
APPLICADAS YEN SISTEMAS (C.L.)
UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL AUTONOMA DE MEXICO
APARTADO POSTAL 20-726
MEXICO 20, DF MEXICO
DEPARTMENT OF PHYsics (J.L.A.)
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
URBANA, ILLINOIS 61801
Manuscri pt recei ved November 18, 1977