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Open-File Report 2009-1018

Prepared with funding from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Methods of Mmax Estimation East of the Rocky Mountains

By Russell L. Wheeler


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Several methods have been used to estimate the magnitude of the largest possible earthquake (Mmax) in parts of the Central and Eastern United States and adjacent Canada (CEUSAC). Each method has pros and cons. The largest observed earthquake in a specified area provides an unarguable lower bound on Mmax in the area. Beyond that, all methods are undermined by the enigmatic nature of geologic controls on the propagation of large CEUSAC ruptures. Short historical-seismicity records decrease the defensibility of several methods that are based on characteristics of small areas in most of CEUSAC. Methods that use global tectonic analogs of CEUSAC encounter uncertainties in understanding what “analog” means. Five of the methods produce results that are inconsistent with paleoseismic findings from CEUSAC seismic zones or individual active faults.

First posted May 1, 2009

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Suggested citation:

Wheeler, Russell L., 2009, Methods of Mmax Estimation East of the Rocky Mountains: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009–1018, 44 p.




Assessments Using Multiple Methods

Pros and Cons of Individual Methods



References Cited

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