The strong earthquake ground motion recorded in the center of and above the fault plane is combined with field evidence of faulting and instrumental studies of aftershocks to deduce stresses during and after the San Fernando earthquake of February 9, 1971. Stress computations based on Brune's near-field, shear-wave spectra, peak velocity of ground motion, energy calculated from the strong-motion record, and a model of circular dislocation give mutually consistent stress estimates, which suggest that the effective stress operating during the earthquake was approximately 100 bars, while during the earthquake it dropped several tens of bars. The energy of the main event is estimated to be 1022 dyne cm.

Thirteen aftershocks, recorded during the first 6 min, were associated with stress drops ranging from 10 to 500 bars, these events clustering along the north-eastern end of the dislocation surface.

The strong-motion accelerograms provide invaluable data for detailed investigations of the pattern of earthquake energy release during and immediately after an earthquake. Used for the first time in this study, strong-motion accelerograms gave an excellent picture of stress history and migration of seismic activity during the first 6 min.

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