Abstract

The Uttarkashi earthquake of 19 October 1991 (MS = 7.0) occurred in the greater Himalayan region north of the main central thrust, at an estimated depth of 12 km. The fault plane solution indicates a low-angle thrust mechanism, striking northwest, consistent with the tectonic pattern of thrusting in the region. Aftershocks define a belt parallel to, and north of, the surface trace of the main central thrust, roughly 10-km wide and 30-km long. The mainshock is located at the northeast edge of this zone. The earthquake was recorded on 13 strong-motion accelerographs at distances ranging from 25 to 150 km from the epicenter. One station at Bhatwari (peak horizontal acceleration of 272 cm sec−2) is above the aftershock zone. The maximum peak horizontal acceleration was about 313 cm sec−2 at Uttarkashi, at an epicentral distance of 36 km.

The amplitudes and frequency content of the strong ground motions are more or less consistent with expectations for an earthquake of this magnitude in California. Synthetics generated using the composite source model and synthetic Green's functions (Zeng et al., 1994a, b) are successful in producing acceleration, velocity, and displacement with a realistic appearance and the correct statistical properties of the two accelerograms recorded nearest the fault (Bhatwari and Uttarkashi). To produce these, we introduced trial-and-error modifications of the layered-medium velocity model within uncertainties. At more distant stations, we first used the velocity structure that worked for the two nearest stations. Differences emphasize the large potential role of unknown site and wave-propagation effects. For the station at Tehri, we explored different velocity models, and found one there that was also quite successful. We then used these two velocity models to predict strong ground motions at Bhatwari and Tehri, from a potential magnitude 8.5 earthquake filling part of the seismic gap along the Himalayan frontal faults. The synthetics show peak accelerations that are only somewhat larger than those in the Uttarkashi event, but much longer durations and increased amplitudes of response spectra at long periods.

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