Following the Loma Prieta earthquake, the U.S. Geological Survey installed four portable digital seismic recorders at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) for one week to study aftershock ground motion at this important Bay area “lifeline.” This study was motivated largely by the need to anticipate strong ground motion from future major earthquakes affecting the Bay area and, to a lesser extent, by the fact that SFO was shut down for 13 hours owing to damage from the Loma Prieta shock. Accordingly, the recording sites were chosen so as to elucidate the effects of varying thicknesses of low-velocity surficial alluvium on the ground motion. Three large aftershocks with magnitudes ranging from 4.2 to 4.5 each produced ground motion that was recorded at all four SFO stations. One of our stations was collocated with a permanent ground motion recorder that indicated a peak horizontal velocity of 29 cm / sec and a peak horizontal acceleration of 0.33 g during the 18 October mainshock. From the aftershock data and one mainshock record, it is possible to extrapolate approximately the mainshock ground motion to other locations at SFO and, more generally, to assess the effects of low-velocity sedimentary cover, including artificial fill material, on the character of the ground motion. The main-shock ground motion recorded at the permanent station was apparently typical for most of SFO where the near-surface alluvium resulted in peak horizontal ground velocity, in the frequency band 0.1 to 3 Hz, amplified by a factor of about 2.5 relative to that recorded at bedrock sites. Observations, in the epicentral distance range 59 to 95 km, including SFO, of the moho-reflected phases PmP and SmS from the aftershocks support the hypothesis, presented elsewhere, that the phase SmS accounted for much of the peak ground motion throughout most of the San Francisco Bay area.

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