Re-evaluation of early instrumental earthquake locations: methodology and examples

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R. D. Adams


The difficulties of locating earthquakes in the early instrumental period are not always fully appreciated. The networks were sparse, and the instruments themselves were of low gain, often had inappropriate frequency response and recording resolution, and their timing could be unreliable and inaccurate. Additionally, there was only limited knowledge of earth structure and consequent phase identification and propagation. The primitive Zöppritz tables for P and S, with no allowance for the core, did not come into use until 1907, and remained the main
model until the adoption of the Jeffreys-Bullen tables in the mid-1930s. It was not until the early 1920s that studies of Hindu Kush earthquakes revealed that earthquake foci could have significant depth. Although many early locations are creditably accurate, others can be improved by use of more modern techniques. Early earthquakes
in unusual places often repay closer investigation. Many events after about 1910 are well enough recorded to be re-located by computer techniques, but earlier locations can still be improved by using more recent knowledge and simpler techniques, such as phase re-identification and graphical re-location. One technique that helps with early events is to locate events using the time of the maximum phase of surface waves, which is often well reported. Macroseismic information is also valuable in giving confirmation of earthquake positions or helping to
re-assess them, including giving indications of focal depth. For many events in the early instrumental period
macroseismic locations are to be preferred to the poorly-controlled instrumental ones. Macroseismic locations can also make useful trial origins for computer re-location. Even more recent events, which appear to be well located, may be grossly in error due to mis-interpretation of phases and inadequate instrumental coverage. A well
converging mathematical solution does not always put the earthquake in the right place, and computer location programs may give unrealistically small estimates of error. Examples are given of improvements in locations of particular earthquakes in various parts of the world and in different time periods.

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How to Cite
Adams, R. D. (2004) “Re-evaluation of early instrumental earthquake locations: methodology and examples”, Annals of Geophysics, 47(2-3). doi: 10.4401/ag-3339.