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Modeling seismic network detection thresholds using production picking algorithms

October 20, 2021

Estimating the detection threshold of a seismic network (the minimum magnitude earthquake that can be reliably located) is a critical part of network design and can drive network maintenance efforts. The ability of a station to detect an earthquake is often estimated by assuming the spectral amplitude for an earthquake of a given size, assuming an attenuation relationship, and comparing the predicted amplitude with the average station background noise level. This approach has significant uncertainty because of unknown regional attenuation and complications in computing small event power spectra, and it fails to account for the specific capabilities of the automatic seismic phase picker used in monitoring. We develop a data‐driven approach to determine network detection thresholds using a multiband phase picking algorithm that is currently in use at the U.S. Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center. We apply this picking algorithm to cataloged earthquakes to determine an empirical relationship of the observability of earthquakes as a function of magnitude and distance. Using this relationship, we produce maps of detection threshold using station spatial configuration and station noise levels. We show that quiet, well‐sited stations significantly increase the detection capabilities of a network compared with a network composed of many noisy stations. Because our method is data driven, it has two distinct advantages: (1) it is less dependent on theoretical assumptions of source spectra and models of regional attenuation, and (2) it can easily be applied to any seismic network. This tool allows for an objective approach to the management of stations in regional seismic networks.