An extensive data set of teleseismic and strong‐motion waveforms and geodetic offsets is used to study the rupture history of the 2008 Wenchuan, China, earthquake. A linear multiple‐time‐window approach is used to parameterize the rupture. Because of the complexity of the Wenchuan faulting, three separate planes are used to represent the rupturing surfaces. This earthquake clearly demonstrates the strengths and limitations of geodetic, teleseismic, and strong‐motion data sets. Geodetic data (static offsets) are valuable for determining the distribution of shallower slip but are insensitive to deeper faulting and reveal nothing about the timing of slip. Teleseismic data in the distance range 30°–90° generally involve no modeling difficulties because of simple ray paths and can distinguish shallow from deep slip. Teleseismic data, however, cannot distinguish between different slip scenarios when multiple fault planes are involved because steep takeoff angles lead to ambiguity in timing. Local strong‐motion data, on the other hand, are ideal for determining the direction of rupture from directivity but can easily be over modeled with inaccurate Green’s functions, leading to misinterpretation of the slip distribution. We show that all three data sets are required to give an accurate description of the Wenchuan rupture. The moment is estimated to be approximately forumla with the slip characterized by multiple large patches with slips up to 10 m. Rupture initiates on the southern end of the Pengguan fault and proceeds unilaterally to the northeast. Upon reaching the cross‐cutting Xiaoyudong fault, rupture of the adjacent Beichuan fault starts at this juncture and proceeds bilaterally to the northeast and southwest.

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