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Foreshocks Explained by Cascades of Triggered Seismicity

Agnes Helmstetter, & Didier Sornette

Published October 2003, SCEC Contribution #737

The observation of foreshocks preceding large earthquakes and the suggestion that foreshocks have specific properties that may be used to distinguish them from other earthquakes have raised the hope that large earthquakes may be predictable. Among proposed anomalous properties are the larger proportion than normal of large versus small foreshocks, the power law acceleration of seismicity rate as a function of time to the mainshock, and the spatial migration of foreshocks toward the mainshock when averaging over many sequences. Using southern California seismicity, we show that these properties and others arise naturally from the simple model that any earthquake may trigger other earthquakes, without arbitrary distinction between foreshocks, aftershocks, and mainshocks. We find that foreshock precursory properties are independent of the mainshock size. This implies that earthquakes (large or small) are predictable to the same degree as seismicity rate is predictable from past seismicity by taking into account cascades of triggering. The cascades of triggering give rise naturally to long-range and long-time interactions, which can explain the observations of correlations in seismicity over surprisingly large length scales.

Key Words
United States, California, precursors, aftershocks, Southern California, seismicity, earthquake prediction, mathematical methods, magnitude, earthquakes, foreshocks

Helmstetter, A., & Sornette, D. (2003). Foreshocks Explained by Cascades of Triggered Seismicity. Journal of Geophysical Research, 108(B10), 2457. doi: 10.1029/2003JB002409.