Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 615–632

The rotational and gravitational signature of the December 26, 2004 Sumatran earthquake

Original paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10712-006-9008-1

Cite this article as:
Gross, R.S. & Chao, B.F. Surv Geophys (2006) 27: 615. doi:10.1007/s10712-006-9008-1


Besides generating seismic waves, which eventually dissipate, an earthquake also generates a static displacement field everywhere within the Earth. This global displacement field rearranges the Earth’s mass thereby causing the Earth’s rotation and gravitational field to change. The size of this change depends upon the magnitude, focal mechanism, and location of the earthquake. The Sumatran earthquake of December 26, 2004 is the largest earthquake to have occurred since the 1960 Chilean earthquake. Using a spherical, layered Earth model, the coseismic effect of the Sumatran earthquake upon the Earth’s length-of-day, polar motion, and low-degree harmonic coefficients of the gravitational field are computed. Using a model of the earthquake source that is composed of five subevents having a total moment-magnitude Mw of 9.3, it is found that this earthquake should have caused the length-of-day to decrease by 6.8 microseconds, the position of the Earth’s generalized figure axis to shift 2.32 milliarcseconds towards 127° E longitude, the Earth’s oblateness J2 to decrease by 2.37 × 10−11 and the Earth’s pear-shapedness J3 to decrease by 0.63 × 10−11. The predicted change in the length-of-day, position of the generalized figure axis, and J3 are probably not detectable by current measurement systems. But the predicted change in oblateness is perhaps detectable if other effects, such as those of the atmosphere, oceans, and continental water storage, can be adequately removed from the observations.


Earth rotationPolar motionLength-of-dayGravitational fieldEarthquake

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jet Propulsion LaboratoryCalifornia Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA
  2. 2.College of Earth SciencesNational Central UniversityChung-liROC