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Statistical estimation of the duration of aftershock sequences

David S. Harte, David A. Rhoades, Annemarie Christophersen, & Sebastian Hainzl

Published April 5, 2016, SCEC Contribution #6268

It is well known that large earthquakes generally trigger aftershock sequences. However, the duration of those sequences is unclear due to the gradual power-law decay with time. The triggering time is assumed to be infinite in the epidemic type aftershock sequence (ETAS) model, a widely used statistical model to describe clustering phenomena in observed earthquake catalogues. This assumption leads to the constraint that the power-law exponent p of the Omori-Utsu decay has to be larger than one to avoid supercritical conditions with accelerating seismic activity on long timescales. In contrast, seismicity models based on rate- and state-dependent friction observed in laboratory experiments predict p ≤ 1 and a finite triggering time scaling inversely to the tectonic stressing rate. To investigate this conflict, we analyse an ETAS model with finite triggering times, which allow smaller values of p. We use synthetic earthquake sequences to show that the assumption of infinite triggering times can lead to a significant bias in the maximum likelihood estimates of the ETAS parameters. Furthermore, it is shown that the triggering time can be reasonably estimated using real earthquake catalogue data, although the uncertainties are large. The analysis of real earthquake catalogues indicates mainly finite triggering times in the order of 100 days to 10 years with a weak negative correlation to the background rate, in agreement with expectations of the rate- and state-friction model. The triggering time is not the same as the apparent duration, which is the time period in which aftershocks dominate the seismicity. The apparent duration is shown to be strongly dependent on the mainshock magnitude and the level of background activity. It can be much shorter than the triggering time. Finally, we perform forward simulations to estimate the effective forecasting period, which is the time period following a mainshock, in which ETAS simulations can improve rate estimates after the occurrence of a mainshock. We find that this effective forecasting period is only in the order of 100 days for moderate mainshocks and in the order of a few years for large events, even if the underlying triggering process lasts much longer.

Harte, D. S., Rhoades, D. A., Christophersen, A., & Hainzl, S. (2016). Statistical estimation of the duration of aftershock sequences. Geophysical Journal International, 205(2), 1180-1189. doi: 10.1093/gji/ggw075.