Accurate estimates of earthquake ground shaking rely on uncertain ground-motion models derived from limited instrumental recordings of historical earthquakes. A critical issue is that there is currently no method to empirically validate the resultant ground-motion estimates of these models at the timescale of rare, large earthquakes; this lack of validation causes great uncertainty in ground-motion estimates. Here, we address this issue and validate ground-motion estimates for southern California utilizing the unexceeded ground motions recorded by 20 precariously balanced rocks. We used cosmogenic 10Be exposure dating to model the age of the precariously balanced rocks, which ranged from ca. 1 ka to ca. 50 ka, and calculated their probability of toppling at different ground-motion levels. With this rock data, we then validated the earthquake ground motions estimated by the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, Version 3 (UCERF3) seismic-source characterization and the Next Generation Attenuation (NGA)-West2 ground-motion models. We found that no ground-motion model estimated levels of earthquake ground shaking consistent with the observed continued existence of all 20 precariously balanced rocks. The ground-motion model I14 estimated ground-motion levels that were inconsistent with the most rocks; therefore, I14 was invalidated and removed. At a 2475 year mean return period, the removal of this invalid ground-motion model resulted in a 2–7% reduction in the mean and a 10–36% reduction in the 5th–95th fractile uncertainty of the ground-motion estimates. Our findings demonstrate the value of empirical data from precariously balanced rocks as a validation tool for removing invalid ground-motion models and, in turn, reducing the uncertainty in earthquake ground-motion estimates.

You do not have access to this content, please speak to your institutional administrator if you feel you should have access.