This article presents an overview of the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) Phase-III effort to determine the extent to which probabilistic seismic hazard analysis (PSHA) can be improved by accounting for site effects. The contributions made in this endeavor are represented in the various articles that compose this special issue of BSSA.
Given the somewhat arbitrary nature of the site-effect distinction, it must be carefully defined in any given context. With respect to PSHA, we define the site effect as the response, relative to an attenuation relationship, averaged over all damaging earthquakes in the region. A diligent effort has been made to identify any attributes that predispose a site to greater or lower levels of shaking. The most detailed maps of Quaternary geology are not found to be helpful; either they are overly detailed in terms of distinguishing different amplification factors or present southern California strong-motion observations are inadequate to reveal their superiority. A map based on the average shear-wave velocity in the upper 30 m, however, is found to delineate significantly different amplification factors. A correlation of amplification with basin depth is also found to be significant, implying up to a factor of two difference between the shallowest and deepest parts of the Los Angeles basin. In fact, for peak acceleration the basin-depth correction is more influential than the 30-m shear-wave velocity. Questions remain, however, as to whether basin depth is a proxy for some other site attribute.
In spite of these significant and important site effects, the standard deviation of an attenuation relationship (the prediction error) is not significantly reduced by making such corrections. That is, given the influence of basin-edge-induced waves, subsurface focusing, and scattering in general, any model that attempts to predict ground motion with only a few parameters will have a substantial intrinsic variability. Our best hope for reducing such uncertainties is via waveform modeling based on first principals of physics.
Finally, questions remain with respect to the overall reliability of attenuation relationships at large magnitudes and short distances. Current discrepancies between viable models produce up to a factor of 3 difference among predicted 10% in 50-yr exceedance levels, part of which results from the uncertain influence of sediment nonlinearity.