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Localized damage caused by topographic amplification during the 2010 M 7.0 Haiti earthquake


Local geological conditions, including both near-surface sedimentary layers1,2,3,4 and topographic features5,6,7,8,9, are known to significantly influence ground motions caused by earthquakes. Microzonation maps use local geological conditions to characterize seismic hazard, but commonly incorporate the effect of only sedimentary layers10,11,12. Microzonation does not take into account local topography, because significant topographic amplification is assumed to be rare. Here we show that, although the extent of structural damage in the 2010 Haiti earthquake was primarily due to poor construction, topographic amplification contributed significantly to damage in the district of Petionville, south of central Port-au-Prince. A large number of substantial, relatively well-built structures situated along a foothill ridge in this district sustained serious damage or collapse. Using recordings of aftershocks, we calculate the ground motion response at two seismic stations along the topographic ridge and at two stations in the adjacent valley. Ground motions on the ridge are amplified relative to both sites in the valley and a hard-rock reference site, and thus cannot be explained by sediment-induced amplification. Instead, the amplitude and predominant frequencies of ground motion indicate the amplification of seismic waves by a narrow, steep ridge. We suggest that microzonation maps can potentially be significantly improved by incorporation of topographic effects.

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Figure 1: Damage distribution in the Petionville district.
Figure 2: Map showing location of stations within Port-au-Prince and sample recorded waveforms.
Figure 3: Estimated site response relative to reference station HCEA for ridge and valley stations.
Figure 4: Observed peak acceleration values (peak-to-peak) for M 3.7–4.4 aftershocks.


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We thank A. Frankel and D. Assimaki for their constructive reviews of the manuscript. We also thank the US Agency for International Development-Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance for their support of the field deployment. We further acknowledge the individuals without whose support the deployment would not have been possible: G. Domond and G. Laborde from Voila Corporation; J-H. and C. Ceant; the owners of the Hotel Montana; the US Army Corps of Engineers; the staff of the Plaza Hotel; and G. Groth, D. Lindwall and other personnel at the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

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S.E.H., J.R.A., D.A., D.G., M.G.J., J.Z.M., M.M., B.S-L.M. and C.P. contributed to the planning and execution of the field deployment; S.E.H., J.R.A., D.G. and A.Y. contributed to data processing and analysis.

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Correspondence to Susan E. Hough.

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Hough, S., Altidor, J., Anglade, D. et al. Localized damage caused by topographic amplification during the 2010 M 7.0 Haiti earthquake. Nature Geosci 3, 778–782 (2010).

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