Earthquake Hazards Program

U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 2007-1263
version 2.0

Rotational Seismology: AGU Session, Working Group, and Website

By William H.K. Lee, Heiner Igel, Maria I. Todorovska, and John R. Evans



Although effects of rotational motions due to earthquakes have long been observed (e. g., Mallet, 1862), nevertheless Richter (1958, p. 213) stated that: “Perfectly general motion would also involve rotations about three perpendicular axes, and three more instruments for these. Theory indicates, and observation confirms, that such rotations are negligible.” However, Richter provided no references for this claim.

Seismology is based primarily on the observation and modeling of three-component translational ground motions. Nevertheless, theoretical seismologists (e.g., Aki and Richards, 1980, 2002) have argued for decades that the rotational part of ground motions should also be recorded. It is well known that standard seismometers are quite sensitive to rotations and therefore subject to rotation-induced errors. The paucity of observations of rotational motions is mainly the result of a lack, until recently, of affordable rotational sensors of sufficient resolution. Nevertheless, in the past decade, a number of authors have reported direct observations of rotational motions and rotations inferred from rigid-body rotations in short baseline accelerometer arrays, creating a burgeoning library of rotational data. For example, ring laser gyros in Germany and New Zealand have led to the first significant and consistent observations of rotational motions from distant earthquakes (Igel et al., 2005, 2007). A monograph on Earthquake Source Asymmetry, Structural Media and Rotation Effects was published recently as well by Teisseyre et al. (2006).

Measurement of rotational motions has implications for: (1) recovering the complete ground-displacement history from seismometer recordings; (2) further constraining earthquake rupture properties; (3) extracting information about subsurface properties; and (4) providing additional ground motion information to earthquake engineers for seismic design. A special session on Rotational Motions in Seismology was convened by H. Igel, W.H.K. Lee, and M. Todorovska during the 2006 AGU Fall Meeting. The goal of this session was to discuss rotational sensors, observations, modeling, theoretical aspects, and potential applications of rotational ground motions. The session was accompanied by the inauguration of an International Working Group on Rotational Seismology (IWGoRS) which aims to promote investigations of all aspects of rotational motions in seismology and their implications for related fields such as earthquake engineering, geodesy, strong-motion seismology, and tectonics, as well as to share experience, data, software, and results in an open Web-based environment.

The primary goal of this article is to make the Earth Science Community aware of the emergence of the field of rotational seismology.

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