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Investigating the relationship between earthquake magnitude and frequency of occurrence


Department of Earth Science, University of Durham 2013

1. Earthquake Data

1.1 Introduction

The self-similarity of earthquakes gives rise to a scaling relationship between the earthquake magnitude and the frequency of occurrence, which can be represented by the Gutenberg-

Richter law

which can be represented by the Gutenberg- Richter law The b-value is broadly equal to 1

The b-value is broadly equal to 1 globally, and is a condition of the fractal relationship of earthquakes. Data showing the cumulative number of earthquakes greater than magnitude

7.0 are plotted for both surface-wave magnitude

M S and moment magnitude M W in the appendix.

1.2 Surface-wave magnitude plot

The relationship on the semi-log plot is broadly linear. However, there are large deviations from the linear trend at high magnitudes, particularly above 8.9. A single line of best fit b was plotted (dashed line) and found to have a b-value of 1.3. The best fit is actually achieved by using two lines, b 1 and b 2 , which have values of 1.0 and 1.9 receptively. The line b 1 follows self-similarity, b-

value = 1, until a magnitude of around M S ~ 7.5.

1.3 Moment-magnitude plot

The relationship shows a much better linear trend, with only slight deviation from a b-value equal to one towards higher magnitudes. A best fit line b was plotted (dashed line) and found to have a b- value of 1.2. Similarly the best fit is achieved by using two lines , b 1 and b 2 , which have values of

1.0 and 1.3 receptively. The line b 1 follows self-

similarity, b-value = 1, until a magnitude of around M W ~ 7.5.

2. Discussion

2.1 Self-Similarity

The breakdown of self-similarity seen in both magnitude frequency plots can be attributed to a number of factors. Firstly, the surface-wave magnitude scale M S is most efficient at recording

shallow teleseismic events (Fowler 2005), and although corrections can be applied to resolve deeper earthquakes, the M S scale requires strong surface-waves, which are seldom produced from deep earthquakes (Lay & Wallace 1995).

Therefore large earthquakes that occur at great depths may be missed from the seismic record altogether causing a breakdown in self-similarity.

Additionally, for earthquakes above a certain size, the frequency at which we measure magnitude M will be on the w -2 decay slope, and thus all earthquakes above this size will have a constant magnitude M (Lay & Wallace 1995). This is known as magnitude saturation, and is particularly prevalent in the m b and the M S scales. For example, M S starts to saturate at around M S = 7.25 and is fully saturated by approximately M S = 8.0. The saturation of the M S scale towards larger magnitude earthquakes may cause the self- similarity to break down at higher magnitudes.

The M W scale doesn't show as marked break down in self-similarity, and the b-value is broadly similar. Unlike the M S scale, the M W scale does not experience saturation at higher magnitudes, since it is derived from the relationship between the moment and energy of an earthquake. Hence, it is likely to give a better representation of earthquakes at higher magnitudes. In addition, since the moment of an earthquake is calculated using only the low frequency spectra of surface-waves, the corner frequencies are easy to determine even from earthquakes at large depths.

Although the M W data shows a more linear fit, i.e. the b-value stays closer to 1, there is still a slight breakdown in the fractal relationship at high magnitudes. Since M W scales are not affected by saturation and are not likely to miss deep earthquakes, the failure in the self- similarity may be explained by smaller earthquakes dominating most global catalogues, and therefore making the frequency-size distributions biased by small earthquakes (Pacheo & Scholz 1995).

Another possibility is that self-similarity breaks down because of changing fault parameters in high order magnitude events.

Relationships between faulting parameters and the actual rupture process provide scaling relations that govern the fractal behaviour of earthquakes. If the faulting parameters or rupture process change in high magnitude earthquakes, then conditions will not be adequate for self- similarity.

Paceho & Scholz (1995), who corrected for the b- value biased discussed above, suggest that a break in self-similarity occurs at a point where the dimension of the event equals the down-dip width of the seismogenic layer. For smaller magnitude earthquakes, rupture length and rupture width scale in the same manner, independent of faulting mechanism. However for large earthquakes, with strike-slip mechanisms, the self-similarity breaks down due to the limitation on rupture width caused by the thickness of the seismogenic layer (Stock & Smith 2000).

The breakdown in b-value observed at small magnitudes may also be caused by changes in scaling relationships. Figure 3 below shows the worldwide frequency of earthquakes from 1990 – 2012 (USGS 2013). There is an even larger change in the b-value for small magnitude events, indicating a much more prominent break down in self-similarity.

a much more prominent break down in self-similarity. Fig.2 A semi-log plot showing the cumulative number

Fig.2 A semi-log plot showing the cumulative number of different magnitude earthquakes worldwide from 1990 – 2012. Note the very marked deviation from earthquake self- similarity at low magnitudes. (Engdahl & Villasenor 2002).

The observed frequency magnitude relation departs from self-similarity with magnitudes smaller than about 4. The fractal relationship of larger earthquakes assume a fixed value of critical weakening slip. This is where the slip-weakening failure criterion, given by the critical slip zone

and the cohesive zone, are roughly comparable to the width of the fault zone (Aki 1987). It is estimated that there is a minimum magnitude at which the critical weakening slip is fixed (Dietrich 1979). Earthquakes of smaller magnitudes are possible, but only with a smaller value of critical slip, which causes the self-similarity assumed for larger earthquakes to break down.

Additionally, it is well known that self- similarity at lower magnitudes break down because earthquakes are too small to be detected by current seismometer installations. Therefore, it is assumed that there are a large number of small magnitude earthquakes missing from the seismic catalogue. However, some micro-seismicity studies using bore holes have shown that local magnitudes M L retain self-similarity down to approximately M L = 0.5 (Abercrombie 1996) and suggest that changes in self-similarity for low magnitude earthquakes result from catalogue incompleteness alone, and not due to changing source parameters as discussed previously.

B-values The b-value of the M S plot is higher than

expected because, as discussed previously,



down at high magnitudes due to missing events from the catalogue and magnitude saturation. Similarly, the b-value of the M W plot is also larger than expected. This is likely to be caused by changing fault parameters at larger magnitudes (Stock & Smith 2000).

Additionally, the best fits achieved by 2 lines,

for the M S

b 1 and b 2 , b 1 = 1.0 and b 2 = 1.9

scale and b 1 = 1.0 and b 2 = 1.3 for the M W scale, broadly agree with results from Pacheo and Scholz (1992) along with numerical predictions made by Rundle (1989), suggesting that different fault parameters, brought about by the limitation on rupture width in large strike-slip mechanisms, present a slightly higher b-value and cause a break down of self-similarity for high magnitude earthquakes.

self-similarity of the

M S scale



B = 1.3 b 1 = 1.0 b 2 = 1.9 b 1 b 2
B = 1.3
1 = 1.0
2 = 1.9
b 1
b 2

Semi-log plot of the cumulative number of different surface-wave magnitude earthquakes above magnitude 7.0. Note the marked change from earthquake self-similarity, b-value = 1, for large magnitude earthquakes.

B = 1.2 b 1 b 1 = 1.0 b 2 = 1.3 b 2
B = 1.2
b 1
1 = 1.0
2 = 1.3
b 2

Semi-log plot of the cumulative number of different moment-magnitude earthquakes above magnitude 7.0. Less of a breakdown of self-similarity, but still a deviation from b-value = 1.

Earthquake data taken from USGS National Earthquake Information Centre (Engdahl & Villasenor 2002) RE FER

Earthquake data taken from USGS National Earthquake Information Centre (Engdahl & Villasenor 2002)


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