Skip Links

USGS - science for a changing world

Open-File Report 2014–1232

In cooperation with Tufts University

Surface Wave Site Characterization at 27 Locations Near Boston, Massachusetts, Including 2 Strong-Motion Stations

By Eric M. Thompson, Brad Carkin, Laurie G. Baise, and Robert E. Kayen

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (6.2 MB)Introduction

The geotechnical properties of the soils in and around Boston, Massachusetts, have been extensively studied. This is partly due to the importance of the Boston Blue Clay and the extent of landfill in the Boston area. Although New England is not a region that is typically associated with seismic hazards, there have been several historical earthquakes that have caused significant ground shaking (for example, see Street and Lacroix, 1979; Ebel, 1996; Ebel, 2006). The possibility of strong ground shaking, along with heightened vulnerability from unreinforced masonry buildings, motivates further investigation of seismic hazards throughout New England. Important studies that are pertinent to seismic hazards in New England include source-parameter studies (Somerville and others, 1987; Boore and others, 2010), wave-propagation studies (Frankel, 1991; Viegas and others, 2010), empirical ground-motion prediction equations (GMPE) for computing ground-motion intensity (Tavakoli and Pezeshk, 2005; Atkinson and Boore, 2006), site-response studies (Hayles and others, 2001; Ebel and Kim, 2006), and liquefaction studies (Brankman and Baise, 2008). The shear-wave velocity (VS) profiles collected for this report are pertinent to the GMPE, site response, and liquefaction aspects of seismic hazards in the greater Boston area. Besides the application of these data for the Boston region, the data may be applicable throughout New England, through correlations with geologic units (similar to Ebel and Kim, 2006) or correlations with topographic slope (Wald and Allen, 2007), because few VS measurements are available in stable tectonic regions.

Ebel and Hart (2001) used felt earthquake reports to infer amplification patterns throughout the greater Boston region and noted spatial correspondence with the dominant period and amplification factors obtained from ambient noise (horizontal-to-vertical ratios) by Kummer (1998). Britton (2003) compiled geotechnical borings in the area and produced a microzonation map based on generalized velocity profiles, where the amplifications were computed using Shake (Schnable and others, 1972), along with an assumed input ground motion. The velocities were constrained by only a few local measurements associated with the Central Artery/Tunnel project. The additional VS measurements presented in this report provide a number of benefits. First, these measurements provide improved spatial coverage. Second, the larger sample size provides better constraints on the mean and variance of the VS distribution for each layer, which may be paired with a three-dimensional (3D) model of the stratigraphy to generate one-dimensional (1D) profiles for use in a standard site-response analysis (for example, Britton, 2003). Third, the velocity profiles may also be used, along with a 3D model of the stratigraphy, as input into a 3D simulation of the ground motion to investigate the effects of basin-generated surface waves and the potential focusing of seismic waves.

This report begins with a short review of the geology of the study area and the field methods that we used to estimate the velocity profiles. The raw data, processed data, and the interpreted VS profiles are given in appendix 1. Photographs and descriptions of the sites are provided in appendix 2.

First posted November 6, 2014

This publication is online only

For additional information, contact:
Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Pacific Science Center
400 Natural Bridges Drive
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). For best results viewing and printing PDF documents, it is recommended that you download the documents to your computer and open them with Adobe Reader. PDF documents opened from your browser may not display or print as intended. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge. More information about viewing, downloading, and printing report files can be found here.

Suggested citation:

Thompson, E.M., Carkin, B., Baise, L.G., and Kayen, R.E., 2014, Surface wave site characterization at 27 locations near Boston, Massachusetts, including 2 strong-motion stations: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014–1232, 27 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)



Study Area and Geology

Field Methods

Data Processing

Forward Modeling




References Cited

Appendixes (2)

Figures (3)

Tables (1)

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Contact USGS
Page Last Modified: Wednesday, December 07, 2016, 07:40:22 PM