The 22 June 1977 (Mw = 8.2) Tonga earthquake has the longest rupture duration ever reported for a normal fault event. The 150-km depth range spanned by aftershocks of the earthquake is also unusually large. There has been substantial controversy over both the depth and duration of faulting for this great event, obscuring its tectonic significance. We study the source process of the Tonga event using long-period Rayleigh waves recorded by the Global Digital Seismograph Network (GDSN) and International Deployment of Accelerometers (IDA) networks. For a standard assumption of a Haskell source, a total duration of 84 ± 4 sec is obtained using a least-squares inversion method. We introduce the use of the spectral amplitude as a weighting factor in measuring the misfit between the data and a given source finiteness model, which reduces the scatter and improves the resolution of source duration determined from data ranging in period from 150 to 300 sec. Using a more realistic shape for the source-time function in the inversion (drawing upon results from body-wave analysis) reveals a much longer (165-sec process time) component of the source process of the Tonga earthquake. The fundamental mode Rayleigh waves do not resolve any horizontal source directivity. However, the centroid depth of the earthquake is well resolved as 96 km with 90 per cent confidence range (93, 104 km). The estimated error in the depth determination due to the uncertainties in the source finiteness and earth models is only a few kilometers. The results indicate that the rupture of the earthquake excited long-period seismic waves at depths somewhat greater than the 70 to 80 km depth range where the primary body-wave radiation occurred, favoring rupture on the steeply dipping plane of the focal mechanism. The fundamental mode Rayleigh waves with periods longer than 150 sec cannot resolve vertical extent of the faulting; however, additional information from body-wave and free oscillation analyses indicates a vertical fault extent of about 50 km with a frequency-dependent variation in seismic radiation with depth.

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