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Prospective and retrospective evaluation of the U.S. Geological Survey public aftershock forecast for the 2019-2021 Southwest Puerto Rico Earthquake and aftershocks

February 9, 2022

The Mw">Mw 6.4 Southwest Puerto Rico Earthquake of 7 January 2020 was accompanied by a robust fore‐ and aftershock sequence. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has issued regular aftershock forecasts for more than a year since the mainshock, available on a public webpage. Forecasts were accompanied by interpretive and informational material, published in English and Spanish. Informational products included narrative “scenarios” for how the aftershock sequence could play out, infographics, and a report on the potential duration of the aftershock sequence through the next decade. Forecasts are based on the epidemic‐type aftershock sequence (ETAS) model and generated using the USGS AftershockForecaster software—an interactive graphical user interface built on the OpenSHA platform (Field et al., 2003). The initial forecast is based on past sequences in similar tectonic environments; subsequent forecasts are tuned to the ongoing sequence via Bayesian model updating. Probabilistic aftershock forecasts for the next day, week, month, and year were publicly released and archived at a daily to monthly tempo, allowing for a truly prospective test of the forecast. Here, we evaluate the forecast over the first year of the recorded aftershocks. The ETAS‐based forecast performed well overall, successfully capturing both the chance of having at least one earthquake of a given magnitude in a forecast interval as well as the non‐Poissonian distribution of the total number of aftershocks within an interval. A retrospective analysis shows that the ETAS model is a substantial improvement over the existing Reasenberg and Jones (1989) forecast model. The exercise also reveals some limitations of the current model, in particular, with respect to nonstationarities in the aftershock magnitude distribution and model parameters throughout the evolving sequence.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Prospective and retrospective evaluation of the U.S. Geological Survey public aftershock forecast for the 2019-2021 Southwest Puerto Rico Earthquake and aftershocks
DOI 10.1785/0220210222
Authors Nicholas van der Elst, Jeanne L. Hardebeck, Andrew J. Michael, Sara McBride, Elizabeth Vanacore
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Seismological Research Letters
Series Number
Index ID 70229086
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Science Center