The importance of historical earthquakes is being increasingly recognized. Careful investigations of key pre‐instrumental earthquakes can provide critical information and insights for not only seismic hazard assessment but also for earthquake science. In recent years, with the explosive growth in computational sophistication in Earth sciences, researchers have developed increasingly sophisticated methods to analyze macroseismic data quantitatively. These methodological developments can be extremely useful to exploit fully the temporally and spatially rich information source that seismic intensities often represent. For example, the exhaustive and painstaking investigations done by Ambraseys and his colleagues of early Himalayan earthquakes provides information that can be used to map out site response in the Ganges basin. In any investigation of macroseismic data, however, one must stay mindful that intensity values are not data but rather interpretations. The results of any subsequent analysis, regardless of the degree of sophistication of the methodology, will be only as reliable as the interpretations of available accounts—and only as complete as the research done to ferret out, and in many cases translate, these accounts. When intensities are assigned without an appreciation of historical setting and context, seemingly careful subsequent analysis can yield grossly inaccurate results. As a case study, I report here on the results of a recent investigation of the 1872 Owen's Valley, California earthquake. Careful consideration of macroseismic observations reveals that this event was probably larger than the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and possibly the largest historical earthquake in California. The results suggest that some large earthquakes in California will generate significantly larger ground motions than San Andreas fault events of comparable magnitude.
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Research Article| July 08 2008
Keeping the History in Historical Seismology: The 1872 Owens Valley, California Earthquake
AIP Conf. Proc. 1020, 293–298 (2008)
Susan E. Hough; Keeping the History in Historical Seismology: The 1872 Owens Valley, California Earthquake. AIP Conf. Proc. 8 July 2008; 1020 (1): 293–298. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.2963848
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