Abstract

To provide better insight into seismic ground motion in the Port‐au‐Prince metropolitan area, we investigate site effects at 12 seismological stations by analyzing 78 earthquakes with magnitude smaller than 5 that occurred between 2010 and 2013. Horizontal‐to‐vertical spectral ratio on earthquake recordings and a standard spectral ratio were applied to the seismic data. We also propose a simplified lithostratigraphic map and use available geotechnical and geophysical data to construct representative soil columns in the vicinity of each station that allow us to compute numerical transfer functions using 1D simulations. At most of the studied sites, spectral ratios are characterized by weak‐motion amplification at frequencies above 5 Hz, in good agreement with the numerical transfer functions. A mismatch between the observed amplifications and simulated response at lower frequencies shows that the considered soil columns could be missing a deeper velocity contrast. Furthermore, strong amplification between 2 and 10 Hz linked to local topographic features is found at one station located in the south of the city, and substantial amplification below 5 Hz is detected near the coastline, which we attribute to deep and soft sediments as well as the presence of surface waves. We conclude that for most investigated sites in Port‐au‐Prince, seismic amplifications due to site effects are highly variable but seem not to be important at high frequencies. At some specific locations, however, they could strongly enhance the low‐frequency content of the seismic ground shaking. Although our analysis does not consider nonlinear effects, we thus conclude that, apart from sites close to the coast, sediment‐induced amplification probably had only a minor impact on the level of strong ground motion, and was not the main reason for the high level of damage in Port‐au‐Prince.

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