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Use of liquefaction-induced features for paleoseismic analysis

January 1, 1996

Liquefaction features can be used in many field settings to estimate the recurrence interval and magnitude of strong earthquakes through much of the Holocene. These features include dikes, craters, vented sand, sills, and laterally spreading landslides. The relatively high seismic shaking level required for their formation makes them particularly valuable as records of strong paleo-earthquakes. This state-of-the-art summary for using liquefaction-induced features for paleoseismic interpretation and analysis takes into account both geological and geotechnical engineering perspectives. The driving mechanism for formation of the features is primarily the increased pore-water pressure associated with liquefaction of sand-rich sediment. The role of this mechanism is often supplemented greatly by the direct action of seismic shaking at the ground surface, which strains and breaks the clay-rich cap that lies immediately above the sediment that liquefied. Discussed in the text are the processes involved in formation of the features, as well as their morphology and characteristics in field settings. Whether liquefaction occurs is controlled mainly by sediment grain size, sediment packing, depth to the water table, and strength and duration of seismic shaking. Formation of recognizable features in the field generally requires a low-permeability cap above the sediment that liquefied. Field manifestations are controlled largely by the severity of liquefaction and the thickness and properties of the low-permeability cap. Criteria are presented for determining whether observed sediment deformation in the field originated by seismically induced liquefaction. These criteria have been developed mainly by observing historic effects of liquefaction in varied field settings. The most important criterion is that a seismic liquefaction origin requires widespread, regional development of features around a core area where the effects are most severe. In addition, the features must have a morphology that is consistent with a very sudden application of a large hydraulic force. This article discusses case studies in widely separated and different geological settings: coastal South Carolina, the New Madrid seismic zone, the Wabash Valley seismic zone, and coastal Washington State. These studies encompass most of the range of settings and the types of liquefaction-induced features likely to be encountered anywhere. The case studies describe the observed features and the logic for assigning a seismic liquefaction origin to them. Also discussed are some types of sediment deformations that can be misinterpreted as having a seismic origin. Two independent methods for estimating prehistoric magnitude are discussed briefly. One method is based on determination of the maximum distance from the epicenter over which liquefaction-induced effects have formed. The other method is based on use of geotechnical engineering techniques at sites of marginal liquefaction, in order to bracket the peak accelerations as a function of epicentral distance; these accelerations can then be compared with predictions from seismological models.

Publication Year 1996
Title Use of liquefaction-induced features for paleoseismic analysis
DOI 10.1016/S0074-6142(96)80074-X
Authors S. F. Obermeier
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Engineering Geology
Index ID 70018172
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse