Pure and Applied Geophysics

, Volume 172, Issue 8, pp 2139–2155 | Cite as

Magnitude Estimation for the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake Based on Ground Motion Prediction Equations

  • Attieh Eshaghi
  • Kristy F. Tiampo
  • Hadi Ghofrani
  • Gail M. Atkinson


This study investigates whether real-time strong ground motion data from seismic stations could have been used to provide an accurate estimate of the magnitude of the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake in Japan. Ultimately, such an estimate could be used as input data for a tsunami forecast and would lead to more robust earthquake and tsunami early warning. We collected the strong motion accelerograms recorded by borehole and free-field (surface) Kiban Kyoshin network stations that registered this mega-thrust earthquake in order to perform an off-line test to estimate the magnitude based on ground motion prediction equations (GMPEs). GMPEs for peak ground acceleration and peak ground velocity (PGV) from a previous study by Eshaghi et al. in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 103. (2013) derived using events with moment magnitude (M) ≥ 5.0, 1998–2010, were used to estimate the magnitude of this event. We developed new GMPEs using a more complete database (1998–2011), which added only 1 year but approximately twice as much data to the initial catalog (including important large events), to improve the determination of attenuation parameters and magnitude scaling. These new GMPEs were used to estimate the magnitude of the Tohoku-Oki event. The estimates obtained were compared with real time magnitude estimates provided by the existing earthquake early warning system in Japan. Unlike the current operational magnitude estimation methods, our method did not saturate and can provide robust estimates of moment magnitude within ~100 s after earthquake onset for both catalogs. It was found that correcting for average shear-wave velocity in the uppermost 30 m (\( V_{{{\text{s}}_{30} }} \)) improved the accuracy of magnitude estimates from surface recordings, particularly for magnitude estimates of PGV (Mpgv). The new GMPEs also were used to estimate the magnitude of all earthquakes in the new catalog with at least 20 records. Results show that the magnitude estimate from PGV values using borehole recordings had the smallest standard deviation among the estimated magnitudes and produced more stable and robust magnitude estimates. This suggests that incorporating borehole strong ground-motion records immediately available after the occurrence of large earthquakes can provide robust and accurate magnitude estimation.


Earthquake early warning system Ground motion prediction equation Magnitude estimation Tohoku-Oki earthquake 

List of symbols


Moment magnitude


Ground motion prediction equation


Peak ground acceleration


Peak ground velocity


Magnitude estimation using PGA values


Magnitude estimation using PGV values

\( V_{{{\text{s}}_{30} }} \)

Time averaged shear-wave velocity over top 30 m


The time of origin of an earthquake


Earthquake early warning system


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Attieh Eshaghi
    • 1
  • Kristy F. Tiampo
    • 1
  • Hadi Ghofrani
    • 1
  • Gail M. Atkinson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesWestern UniversityLondonCanada

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