Abstract

Earthquakes on a specified fault (or fault segment) with magnitudes greater than a specified value have a statistical distribution of recurrence times. The mean recurrence time can be related to the rate of strain accumulation and the strength of the fault. Very few faults have a recorded history of earthquakes that define a distribution well. For hazard assessment, in general, a statistical distribution of recurrence times is assumed along with parameter values. Assumed distributions include the Weibull (stretched exponential) distribution, the lognormal distribution, and the Brownian passage-time (inverse Gaussian) distribution. The distribution of earthquake waiting times is the conditional probability that an earthquake will occur at a time in the future if it has not occurred for a specified time in the past. The distribution of waiting times is very sensitive to the distribution of recurrence times. An exponential distribution of recurrence times is Poissonian, so there is no memory of the last event. The distribution of recurrence times must be thinner than the exponential if the mean waiting time is to decrease as the time since the last earthquake increases. Neither the lognormal or the Brownian passage time distribution satisfies this requirement. We use the “Virtual California” model for earthquake occurrence on the San Andreas fault system to produce a synthetic distribution of earthquake recurrence times on various faults in the San Andreas system. We find that the synthetic data are well represented by Weibull distributions. We also show that the Weibull distribution follows from both damage mechanics and statistical physics.

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