California earthquake history

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T. Toppozada
D. Branum


This paper presents an overview of the advancement in our knowledge of California's earthquake history since
~ 1800, and especially during the last 30 years. We first review the basic statewide research on earthquake occurrences that was published from 1928 through 2002, to show how the current catalogs and their levels of completeness have evolved with time. Then we review some of the significant new results in specific regions of California,
and some of what remains to be done. Since 1850, 167 potentially damaging earthquakes of M ~ 6 or larger have been identified in California and its border regions, indicating an average rate of 1.1 such events per year. Table I lists the earthquakes of M ~ 6 to 6.5 that were also destructive since 1812 in California and its border regions, indicating an average rate of one such event every ~ 5 years. Many of these occurred before 1932 when epicenters and magnitudes started to be determined routinely using seismographs in California. The number of these early earthquakes is probably incomplete in sparsely populated remote parts of California before ~ 1870. For example,
6 of the 7 pre-1873 events in table I are of M = 7, suggesting that other earthquakes of M 6.5 to 6.9 occurred but were not properly identified, or were not destructive. The epicenters and magnitudes (M) of the pre-instrumental earthquakes were determined from isoseismal maps that were based on the Modified Mercalli Intensity of shaking (MMI) at the communities that reported feeling the earthquakes. The epicenters were estimated to be in the regions of most intense shaking, and values of M were estimated from the extent of the areas shaken at various MMI levels. MMI VII or greater shaking is the threshold of damage to weak buildings. Certain areas in the regions
of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Eureka were each shaken repeatedly at MMI VII or greater at least six times since ~ 1812, as depicted by Toppozada and Branum (2002, fig. 19).

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How to Cite
Toppozada, T. and Branum, D. (2004) “California earthquake history”, Annals of Geophysics, 47(2-3). doi: 10.4401/ag-3317.