The effects of near-surface soil stratigraphy on the amplitude and frequency content of ground motion are accounted for in most modern U.S. seismic design codes for building structures as a function of the soil conditions prevailing in the area of interest. Nonetheless, currently employed site-classification criteria do not adequately describe the nonlinearity susceptibility of soil formations, which prohibits the development of standardized procedures for the computationally efficient integration of nonlinear ground response analyses in broadband ground-motion simulations. In turn, the lack of a unified methodology for nonlinear site-response analyses affects both the prediction accuracy of site-specific ground-motion intensity measures and the evaluation of site-amplification factors when broadband simulations are used for the development of hybrid attenuation relations. In this article, we introduce a set of criteria for quantification of the nonlinearity susceptibility of soil profiles based on the site conditions and incident ground-motion characteristics, and we implement them to identify the least complex ground response prediction methodology required for the simulation of nonlinear site effects at three sites in the Los Angeles basin. The criteria are developed on the basis of a comprehensive nonlinear site-response modeling uncertainty analysis, which includes both detailed soil profile descriptions and statistical adequacy of ground-motion time histories. Approximate and incremental nonlinear models are implemented, and the limited site-response observations are initially compared to the ensemble site-response estimates. A suite of synthetic ground motions for rupture scenarios of weak, medium, and large magnitude events (M 3.5–7.5) is next generated, parametric studies are conducted for each fixed magnitude scenario by varying the source-to-site distance, and the variability introduced in ground-motion predictions is quantified for each nonlinear site-response methodology. A frequency index is developed to describe the frequency content of incident ground motion relative to the resonant frequencies of the soil profile, and this index is used in conjunction with the rock-outcrop acceleration peak amplitude (PGARO) to identify the site conditions and ground-motion characteristics where incremental nonlinear analyses should be employed in lieu of approximate methodologies. We show that the proposed intensity-frequency representation of ground motion may be implemented to describe the nonlinearity susceptibility of soil formations in broadband simulations by accounting both for the magnitude-distance-orientation characteristics of seismic motion and the profile stiffness characteristics. The synthetic ground-motion predictions are next used for the development of site-amplification factors for the alternative site-response methodologies, and the results are compared to published site factors of attenuation relations. For the site conditions investigated, currently established amplification factors compare well with synthetic simulations for class C and D site conditions, while long-period amplification factors are overestimated by a factor of 1.5 at the class E site, where site-specific nonlinear analyses should be employed for levels of PGARO>0.2g.

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