Abstract

We employed ambient-noise measurements to assess the potential for seismic site response in sediment-filled valleys that intersect beneath downtown Providence, Rhode Island. At eight valley stations and at two sites on an adjacent bedrock highland, we recorded ground motion from two types of sources: pile drivers at a local construction site and ambient microtremors. At all valley sites where sediment thicknesses exceed 10 m, spectral ratios contain amplitude peaks at frequencies of 1.5 to 3.0 Hz. In contrast, spectral ratios from the two sites on the bedrock highland where sediment cover is less than 4-m thick are relatively flat within this frequency range. A variety of borehole logs identified two fundamental sediment types (soft sediment and a consolidated glacial till) and were used to map layer thicknesses over the entire study region. Refraction data constrained P-wave velocity in the bedrock to be 3680 ± 160 m/sec and indicated two soft-sediment layers with P-wave velocities of 300 ± 50 and 1580 ± 120 m/sec. Using a one-dimensional reflection matrix technique, we matched the spectral-ratio peak observed at each valley site with the frequency of fundamental resonance predicted for local layer thicknesses and velocities. A positive correlation between the best-fitting soft-sediment velocities and bedrock depth may reflect greater compaction in the deepest sediments or a locally two-dimensional sediment resonance at the deepest sediment sites. We conclude that unconsolidated sediment layers under downtown Providence have the potential to amplify earthquake ground motion at frequencies damaging to engineered structures.

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