Local wave amplification due to strong seismic motions in surficial multilayered soil is influenced by several parameters such as the wave‐field polarization and the dynamic properties and impedance contrast between soil layers. The present research aims at investigating seismic motion amplification in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake through a one‐directional three‐component (1D‐3C) wave propagation model. A 3D nonlinear‐constitutive relation for dry soils under cyclic loading is implemented in a quadratic line finite‐element model. The soil rheology is modeled by the mean of a multisurface cyclic plasticity model of the Masing–Prandtl–Ishlinskii–Iwan (MPII) type. Its major advantage is that the rheology is characterized by few commonly measured parameters. Ground motions are computed at the surface of soil profiles in the Tohoku area (Japan) by propagating 3C signals recorded at rock outcrops during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Computed surface ground motions are compared to the Tohoku earthquake records at alluvial sites and the reliability of the 1D‐3C model is corroborated. The 1D‐3C approach is compared with the combination of three separate one‐directional analyses of a one‐motion component propagated independently (1D‐1C approach). The 3D loading path due to the 3C‐polarization leads to multiaxial stress interaction that reduces soil strength and increases nonlinear effects. Time histories and spectral amplitudes for the Tohoku earthquake are numerically reproduced. The 1D‐3C approach allows for evaluation of the various parameters of the 3C motion and 3D stress and strain evolution of the entire soil profile.

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