The regional variability in expected ground motion associated with six different characterizations of seismic source zones for probabilistic ground motion assessment is examined for the eastern United States. Three of the seismic source zone models are based on types of geologic structure: (1) regions characterized by late-Precambrian faulting; (2) middle-to-late Paleozoic thrust tectonics; and (3) early-to-middle Mesozoic extensional features. Two other seismic source zone configurations considered are based on data related to vertical crustal movements, and the final source zone model investigated is that of Algermissen and others (1982). Maintaining the same maximum magnitude among all zones and for all source zone configurations, a comparison of results indicates a factor of 3 difference among source zone models for calculated acceleration levels in eastern Massachusetts, southeastern Maine, and the Cape Fear arch of eastern North Carolina; a factor of about 2 or greater difference for most other eastern seaboard areas; and a factor of 1.5 or less for much of the Appalachian region extending from New Brunswick to the Gulf Coast. Results show that certain source zone models based exclusively on speculative geologic hypotheses result in considerably lower ground-motion hazard than otherwise implied by accepting historical seismicity as a guide to future hazard. Significantly, variation in the seismic hazard estimates at probability levels of 1 in 500 due to uncertain earthquake causal structures or processes is considerably higher in the heavily populated northeast region than in the Charleston, South Carolina, area.

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