Abstract

The description of the great earthquake of 19 June 1858 is unusual: damage and high intensities were reported both in the state of Michoacan and in Mexico City. Although a coastal epicenter for this earthquake cannot be ruled out, the reports agree better with an intermediate-depth (about 50 km), normal-faulting event in the subducted Cocos plate. A careful examination of the reports of this event and other normal-faulting events below the Mexican altiplano suggests that a likely location is 18.0 °N, 100.8 °W, near the epicenter of the 6 June 1964 (M7.3, H = 55 km) event. This location is 220 km SW of the city. The magnitude of the earthquake is estimated to be about 7.7. We synthesize expected ground motions in CU, a hill-zone site in the city, from an event similar to that of 1858, using records from the 23 May 1994 earthquake (18.0 °N, 100.6 °W, H = 50 km, M5.7) as an empirical Green's function and stress parameter, Δσ, of 50, 160, and 300 bar. The expected peak horizontal acceleration in CU of Δσ = 160 bar is about 30 gals. Similar acceleration was recorded in CU during the 1985, Michoacan earthquake (M8.0). We compute expected ground motions at many sites in Mexico City using empirical transfer functions and random vibration theory and compare these motions and the expected damage in the city with those from the 1985 Michoacan earthquake. Results show that the overall expected damage during the postulated earthquake is ⅔ and 1⅓ of that during the Michoacan earthquake for Δσ = 160 and 300 bar, respectively. A greater percentage of low-rise construction, which constitute about 80% of the total in the city, will be damaged during the postulated earthquake than during the Michoacan earthquake. The expected ground motions for Δσ = 50 bar are smaller at all periods than those from the Michoacan earthquake. As the present building code for Mexico City contemplates coastal earthquakes of magnitude greater than 8.0, the case of Δσ = 50 bar is not of interest in this article. This preliminary study suggests a need for a more careful evaluation of expected ground motion in the Valley of Mexico from the postulated earthquake and its impact on the current design spectra of the city.

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