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Stress Release and Source Scaling of the 2010–2011 Canterbury, New Zealand Earthquake Sequence from Spectral Inversion of Ground Motion Data


The Canterbury earthquake sequence beginning with the 2010 M W 7.2 Darfield earthquake is one of the most notable and well-recorded crustal earthquake sequences in a low-strain-rate region worldwide and as such provides a unique opportunity to better understand earthquake source physics and ground motion generation in such a tectonic setting. Ground motions during this sequence ranged up to extreme values of 2.2 g, recorded during the February 2011 M W 6.2 event beneath the city of Christchurch. A better understanding of the seismic source signature of this sequence, in particular the stress release and its scaling with earthquake size, is crucial for future ground motion prediction and hazard assessment in Canterbury, but also of high interest for other low-to-moderate seismicity regions where high-quality records of large earthquakes are lacking. Here we present a source parameter study of more than 200 events of the Canterbury sequence, covering the magnitude range M W 3–7.2. Source spectra were derived using a generalized spectral inversion technique and found to be well characterized by the ω −2 source model. We find that stress drops range between 1 and 20 MPa with a median value of 5 MPa, which is a factor of 5 larger than the median stress drop previously estimated with the same method for crustal earthquakes in much more seismically active Japan. Stress drop scaling with earthquake size is nearly self-similar, and we identify lateral variations throughout Canterbury, in particular high stress drops at the fault edges of the two major events, the M W 7.2 Darfield and M W 6.2 Christchurch earthquakes.

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We wish to thank the staff involved in the GeoNet project for making the databases available, as well as Martin Reyners for providing additional phase picks used in window selection. GeoNet ( is sponsored by the New Zealand Government through the Earthquake Commission (EQC), GNS Science and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). This research was supported by the New Zealand Natural Hazards Platform. We furthermore thank Rachel Abercrombie and an anonymous reviewer for constructive comments that helped to improve the paper, and Bill Fry for fruitful discussions.

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Correspondence to Adrien Oth.

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Oth, A., Kaiser, A.E. Stress Release and Source Scaling of the 2010–2011 Canterbury, New Zealand Earthquake Sequence from Spectral Inversion of Ground Motion Data. Pure Appl. Geophys. 171, 2767–2782 (2014).

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  • Ground Motion
  • Stress Drop
  • Seismic Moment
  • Source Spectrum
  • Spectral Inversion