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Probabilistic seismic source inversion from regional landslide evidence


In regions of infrequent but potentially damaging seismicity, modern earthquake inventories may be insufficient to provide inputs to seismic hazard analyses (i.e., fault locations and magnitude–frequency relations). As a result, analysis of paleoseismic evidence, such as coseismic landsliding, is commonly used to help elucidate the seismic record, thereby reducing seismic hazard uncertainty. However, while paleolandslides have been investigated widely, existing inverse-analysis techniques (i.e., to constrain the causative earthquake magnitude and/or ground motions) have several shortcomings, namely, they (i) require the location of the causative earthquake to be known, (ii) provide only a lower-bound estimate of seismic parameters, and (iii) are deterministic in nature. Accordingly, this paper proposes a flexible inversion framework that probabilistically constrains seismic source parameters from regional paleolandslide evidence. The outputs of this framework are (i) a geospatial likelihood surface that constrains the location of fault rupture and (ii) a probability distribution of the rupture magnitude. Simulated paleolandslide studies are performed on modern earthquakes with known parameters. These examples demonstrate the framework’s provocative potential as well as important lessons for implementation. The proposed framework has the potential to extract new insights from relic landslide evidence in seismic zones worldwide.

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Fig. 6

source locations and b corresponding Mw most likely to produce the field evidence, if the earthquake occurred at a given location. Black rectangles, actual fault projection (Carena and Suppe 2002); faint purple lines, other mapped faults in the region (California Geological Survey 2014); blue polygons, complete inventory of mapped landslides

Fig. 7

source location (solid lines) as well as the aggregate PDFs considering source location uncertainty (dashed lines)

Fig. 8

source locations. Black rectangles, actual fault projection (Updike et al. 1996); faint purple lines, other mapped faults in the region (California Geological Survey 2014); blue polygons, complete inventory of mapped landslides

Fig. 9

source locations. Black rectangles, actual fault projection (Wald et al. 1991); faint purple lines, other mapped faults in the region (California Geological Survey 2014); blue polygons, complete inventory of mapped landslides

Fig. 10

source locations. Black rectangles, actual fault projection (Wentworth and Zoback 1990); faint purple lines, other mapped faults in the region (California Geological Survey 2014); blue polygons, complete inventory of mapped landslides

Data availability

All data analyzed herein is available in the public domain.


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The presented study is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. CMMI-1751216, by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant No. DGE-1762114, and by the University of Washington Royalty Research Fund (RRF).

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Correspondence to Brett W. Maurer.

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Rasanen, R.A., Maurer, B.W. Probabilistic seismic source inversion from regional landslide evidence. Landslides 19, 407–419 (2022).

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  • Magnitude
  • Seismic hazard analyses
  • Seismic zones