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Implications for prediction and hazard assessment from the 2004 Parkfield earthquake


Obtaining high-quality measurements close to a large earthquake is not easy: one has to be in the right place at the right time with the right instruments. Such a convergence happened, for the first time, when the 28 September 2004 Parkfield, California, earthquake occurred on the San Andreas fault in the middle of a dense network of instruments designed to record it. The resulting data reveal aspects of the earthquake process never before seen. Here we show what these data, when combined with data from earlier Parkfield earthquakes, tell us about earthquake physics and earthquake prediction. The 2004 Parkfield earthquake, with its lack of obvious precursors, demonstrates that reliable short-term earthquake prediction still is not achievable. To reduce the societal impact of earthquakes now, we should focus on developing the next generation of models that can provide better predictions of the strength and location of damaging ground shaking.

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Figure 1: Location of the 2004 Parkfield earthquake.
Figure 2: Spatial distribution of Parkfield aftershocks.
Figure 3: Distribution of slip on the San Andreas fault since 1966 estimated from geodetic data.
Figure 4: Horizontal PGA from ShakeMap51.
Figure 5: Seismograms for Parkfield earthquakes at De Bilt, the Netherlands.

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The Parkfield experiment has served as a model for the collaboration of federal and state agencies with researchers in academia and industry, and many, far too numerous to list here, have contributed to its successes. In particular, J. Davis, J. Filson, A. Lindh and T. McEvilly made the experiment happen. We thank T. Hanks, S. Hough, D. Jackson, Y. Kagan, A. Lindh, M. Rymer, W. Thatcher, D. Wald and M. L. Zoback for their comments and suggestions and L. Blair, J. Boatwright, M. Huang, and D. Wald for technical assistance.

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Correspondence to W. H. Bakun.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure S1

Estimates of MW and epicenter location for historical Parkfield earthquakes from MMI assignments relative to the rupture of the 2004 event (thick purple line). (PDF 267 kb)

Supplementary Figure S2

Three possible sequences of earthquakes at Parkfield are tested for non-randomness with the Kolmogorov-Smirnov goodness-of-fit test. (PDF 219 kb)

Supplementary Figure S3

Peak horizontal acceleration from the CISN ShakeMap26 as a function of distance from the fault rupture. (PDF 63 kb)

Supplementary Figure S4

Spatial distribution of Parkfield aftershocks and background seismicity. (PDF 127 kb)

Supplementary Notes

This file contains the Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figure Legends and Supplementary Tables S1 and S2. (DOC 621 kb)

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Bakun, W., Aagaard, B., Dost, B. et al. Implications for prediction and hazard assessment from the 2004 Parkfield earthquake. Nature 437, 969–974 (2005).

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