Presented is a new approach for picking P‐phase arrival time in single‐component acceleration or broadband velocity records without requiring detection interval or threshold settings. The algorithm PPHASEPICKER transforms the signal into a response domain of a single‐degree‐of‐freedom (SDOF) oscillator with viscous damping and then tracks the rate of change of dissipated damping energy to pick P‐wave phases. The SDOF oscillator has a short natural period and a correspondingly high resonant frequency, which is higher than most frequencies in a seismic wave. It also has a high damping ratio (60% of critical). At this damping level, the frequency response approaches the Butterworth maximally flat magnitude filter, and phase angles are preserved. The relative input energy imparted to the oscillator by the input signal is converted to elastic strain energy and then dissipated by the damping element as damping energy. The damping energy yields a smooth envelope over time; it is zero in the beginning of the signal, zero or near zero before the P‐phase arrival, and builds up rapidly with the P wave. Because the damping energy function changes considerably at the onset of the P wave, it is used as a metric to track and pick the P‐phase arrival time. The PPHASEPICKER detects P‐phase onset using the histogram method. Its performance is compared with picking techniques using short‐term‐average to long‐term‐average ratio, and a picking method that finds the first P‐phase arrival time using the Akaike information criterion. A large set of records with various intensities and signal‐to‐noise ratios is used for testing the PPHASEPICKER, and it is demonstrated that PPHASEPICKER is able to more accurately pick the onset of genuine signals against the background noise and to correctly distinguish between whether the first arrival is a P wave (emergent or impulsive) or whether the signal is from a faulty sensor.

Online Material: MATLAB script for P‐phase arrival time picking.

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