Errata for Phantom Earthquakes: USGS

Barry A Walker liked this post

There have been a couple of reported earthquakes that have since been removed from the database. This happens when seismic waves are incorrectly interpreted by the computers, typically from the results of larger magnitude earthquakes. These large magnitude earthquakes can produce seismic waves that are easily interpreted to be local earthquakes in other locations. When people review the data, these errors are omitted. However, the phantom earthquakes are often submitted to the earthquake notification system prior to this removal. These deletions raise angst in the conspiracy theorists’ minds (we can only imagine what actually is in their minds, if much at all), suggesting that there is some global conspiracy to hide seismic data, for some nefarious reason. I cannot think of a single reason why someone might want to hide seismic data (well, maybe for nuclear testing). It would be difficult to really hide seismic data because there are so many unique and independent seismic networks, which publish their data online.

Sign up for the Earthquake Notification System here.

The USGS has posted information about these recent Phantom Earthquakes and the reasons behind their deletions. I paste the relevant information below, just in case there is a conspiracy that will later remove these words from the internets [sarcasm].

Here was the page for the M 5.1 Lewiston earthquake, which was the result of seismic waves travelling from the M 6.7 earthquake along the Alaska Peninsula. This is my first post about the M 6.7 earthquake and here is a post that I wrote that includes animations of historic seismicity in the region.

Here was my post about this earthquake. This happened at a time when I needed to go to sleep, so I was putting off from posting a more detailed accounting until the next day. Of course, when I awoke the next day, it was deleted… So I had little to post about. This is the link to the USGS for this earthquake.

This is the pager alert (which is also an automated product):

Here is the “Did You Feel It?” map, with no reports (should be no surprise, since there was no earthquake).

Here is the Modified Mercalli Intensity shake map, showing that people would have felt it if it had happened (and probably would have reported it!).

Here is what the USGS states about these earthquakes:

Commentary for Multiple “Phantom Events” in California – posted June 2, 2015

Automated notification systems are a convenient and often essential component of modern life. The USGS has invested heavily in developing automated systems that provide the public with timely and accurate earthquake information. On rare occasions the Earth throws a curveball and on May 29th and 30th, the USGS issued multiple alerts for false earthquakes in Northern California. The first, a M5.1 near Lewiston, CA, was distributed on Friday. More false alerts were distributed on Saturday, including a M5.5 near Ukiah and M4.7 near San Simeon.

These erroneous earthquake notifications were created by the seismic waves from large, distant earthquakes. On Friday, a M6.7 earthquake occurred at a depth of approximately 60 km, 111 km off of Chirikof Island, Alaska. It was this earthquake that fooled the automatic processing of the Northern California Seismic System to issue the first false alert. Just 28 hours later, a M7.8 earthquake off of Japan with a depth of more than 660 km – the deepest earthquake of its size to have occurred during our history of recording – spawned two more phantom events in Northern California.

Large earthquakes have created challenges for regional seismic monitoring in the past. This problem is particularly acute for deep earthquakes as they generate very impulsive seismic waves which may be misinterpreted as a local earthquake. The USGS and its partners have developed a number of methods to stop or screen these events from being distributed on the Web and through such mechanisms as the Earthquake Notification Service. The USGS will be implementing changes to improve the system and minimize the chances of this occurring in the future.

The erroneous events were deleted quickly by a duty seismologist. Unfortunately, a problem with the distribution software prevented the delete messages from being transmitted to recipients of the Earthquake Notification Service. The inability to transmit the information about the false events to the users of the Earthquake Notification Service caused significant confusion and the USGS regrets the problems caused by this failure. USGS staff have identified the problem in the distribution software and fixed it.

Errata for “Phantom Events” in Central and Northern California resulting from the M6.7 Alaska Earthquake on 2015-05-29 07:00:29 UTC

Strong earthquakes generate seismic waves that spread across the entire globe. When the earthquakes are deep, the distant recordings are quite impulsive and are often mistakenly identified by automated systems as local earthquakes. On 2015/05/29 07:00 UTC, a 60 km-deep M6.7 earthquake occurred offshore of Chirikof Island, Alaska and swept across the seismic networks in northern California. The automatic earthquake detection systems recognized the arrival of seismic energy but misinterpreted it as several earthquakes, including an M 5.1 event occurring near Lewiston, rather than one large distant event. These “phantom events” were automatically released for public distribution on the Web and through the Earthquake Notification Service. All “phantom events” were cancelled by the duty seismologist within 15 minutes.

Posted in Chemeketa Community College, earthquake, education, geology, HSU, plate tectonics, research

Blanco Fracture Zone: 2000 – 2015 Seismicity Animation

Beau Whitney, Edna Cummings liked this post

I put together an animation that includes the seismicity from 1/1/2000 until 6/1/2015 for the region near the Blanco fracture zone, with earthquake magnitudes greater than or equal to M = 5.0. The map here shows all these epicenters, with the moment tensors for earthquakes of M = 6 or more (plus the two largest earthquakes from today’s swarm). This is the search that I used for the earthquakes plotted in the map and animations below. Here is the page that I posted regarding the beginning of this swarm. Here is a post from some earthquakes last year along the BFZ.

Earthquake epicenters are plotted with the depth designated by color and the magnitude depicted by the size of the circle. These are all fairly shallow earthquakes at depths suitable for oceanic lithosphere.

    Here is the list of the earthquakes with moment tensors plotted in the above maps (with links to the USGS websites for those earthquakes):

  • 2000/06/02 M 6.0
  • 2003/01/16 M 6.3
  • 2008/01/10 M 6.3
  • 2012/04/12 M 6.0
  • 2015/06/01 M 5.8
  • 2015/06/01 M 5.9
    Here are some files that are outputs from that USGS search above.

  • csv file
  • kml file (not animated)
  • kml file (animated)


    Here are links to the video files (it might be easier to download them and view them remotely as the files are large).

  • First Animation (20 mb mp4 file)
  • Second Animation (10 mb mp4 file)

Here is the first animation that first adds the epicenters through time (beginning with the oldest earthquakes), then removes them through time (beginning with the oldest earthquakes).

Here is the second animation that uses a one-year moving window. This way, one year after an earthquake is plotted, it is removed from the plot. This animation is good to see the spatiotemporal variation of seismicity along the BFZ.

Here is a map with all the fore- and after-shocks plotted to date.

Late addition:
Here is a seismogram from Gold Mountain Washington. Thanks for posting this Pacific Northwest Seismic Network fb page. Here is the page that it came from.

Posted in cascadia, Chemeketa Community College, earthquake, education, Extension, geology, HSU, humboldt, oregon, plate tectonics, strike-slip, subduction, Transform, tsunami

Blanco Fracture Zone Earthquakes!


This morning we had three earthquakes related to the Blanco fracture zone, a transform (shear) plate boundary. These earthquakes occurred quite a bit north of the bathymetric expression of the BFZ (though the M 5.8 is actually plotting closer to the BFZ this morning), similar to the seismicity earlier this year to the southeast of today’s swarm. Here is a post regarding the seismicity along the BFZ in April 2015.

Here is a map showing these earthquakes, with moment tensors plotted for the M 5.8 and M 5.5 earthquakes. I include an inset map showing the plate configuration based upon the Nelson et al. (2004) and Chaytor et al. (2004) papers (I modified it). I also include a cross section of the subduction zone, as it is configured in-between earthquakes (interseismic) and during earthquakes (coseismic), modified from Plafker (1972).

Here is a version of the CSZ map alone (Chaytor et al., 2004; Nelson et al., 2004).

Here is a version of the CSZ cross section alone (Plafker, 1972).

Here is a map showing the BFZ seismicity from April 2015.

Posted in cascadia, Chemeketa Community College, education, geology, HSU, humboldt, plate tectonics, strike-slip, subduction, Transform

Historic Seismicity Animations: Izu-Bonin, Mariana: 1940 – 2015

Following up on the seismicity in the western Pacific, I put together a couple animations. My post about the deep mainshock (magnitude M = 7.8 ) is here. My second post has some aftershocks plotted (and some foreshocks), as well as a little more about this series of earthquakes.

Here are a couple animations that show the seismicity in the western Pacific for the time span of 1940 through the end of May, 2015. These earthquakes were downloaded from the USGS NEIC using the html based query, using this search. The diameter relates to earthquake magnitude and the color represents the depth. These earthquakes have magnitudes greater than or equal to M = 7 and span the period from 1940 through May 2015.

I also have placed an overlay of the oceanic crustal age that I downloaded from here: Les SVT dans l’académie de Versailles. Color represents age. The ichrons have 5 Ma spacing.

Here is a screenshot showing all earthquakes included in the following animations.

1940 – 2015 with no moving window. Link to the file here.

1940 – 2015 with 5 year moving window. Link to the file here.

Also, here is another cross section in the same region as the M 7.8 earthquake. This is from the USGS poster about the seismicity in this region (Rhea. This legend for this cross section is here.

Here is the cross section. Note again, how this M 7.8 earthquake does not fit the existing slab model.


  • Rhea, S., Tarr, A.C., Hayes, G., Villaseñor, A., and Benz, H.M., 2010, Seismicity of the Earth 1900-2007, Japan and vicinity: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010-1083-D, 1 map sheet, scale 1:5,000,000.

Posted in asia, Chemeketa Community College, education, geology, HSU, plate tectonics, subduction, Transform

Triggered Earthquakes: Izu-Bonin

Well, we had a large magnitude earthquake (M = 6.2) triggered by the M 7.8 deep earthquake along the Izu-Bonin Trench. Here is my post from yesterday. Note the triggered earthquake is in a region where there were earthquakes about 2 weeks prior to the M 7.8. These “foreshocks” (not really foreshocks since they are on different faults) are thrust or reverse earthquakes (the result of compression from the convergent plate boundary). The M 7.8 and triggered M 6.2 are, instead, normal earthquakes (the result of extension).

I have included a cross section on the map (also include this below). The cross section B-B’ is in a great location compared to the M 7.8. Note the purple line, as this coincides with the B-B’ cross section on seismicity in the inset figure. I placed a red circle on the inset, approximately where the M 7.8 hypocenter would plot. This M 7.8 is the deepest earthquake in this part of the subduction zone, but on cross section E-E’ shows an earthquake with a similar hypocentral depth. I also show where the 1944 M 8.1 Tonankai and 1946 M 8.3 Nankai subduction zone earthquakes are.

    Here are the USGS web sites for the earthquakes with moment tensors plotted on the above map.

  • 2015.05.10 M 5.3
  • 2015.05.10 M 5.6
  • 2015.05.30 M 6.2
  • 2015.05.30 M 7.8

Something that is interesting, possibly, is that the M 7.8 earthquake is at a much deeper position than is suggested by the slab model from Hayes et al. (2012). Based upon these slab contours (the depth contours for where the subduction zone fault may be, based upon seismicity), the slab is at a depth of 200-220 km in the region of the M 7.8 earthquake, yet this earthquake has a USGS hypocentral depth of 677 km. These slab contours are free to download and then they can be plotted in Google Earth (or ArcGIS). However, if we examine the cross section on the inset figure (or below), we will see that the M 7.8 fits well with the earlier seismicity. Perhaps the Hayes et al. (2012) slab model could be updated for this subduction zone.

The M 7.8 was felt broadly in Japan.

This shows how the seismic energy attenuates (diminishes) with distance from the earthquake. Note how the observations are at such a great distance.

Here is the cross section figure that is an inset on the above map. This comes from Dr. Matt Fouch from Arizona State University. Here is some text from the wiki page.
“Map view of bathymetry and seismicity in the IBM subduction zone using the earthquake catalog of Engdahl, van der Hilst & Buland 1998. Circles denote epicentral locations; lighter circles represent shallower events, darker circles represent deeper events. Black lines denote cross sectional areas depicted in 6 profiles on right, organized from N to S. Black circles represent hypocentral locations in volume ~60 km to each side of the lines shown on the map at left. Large variations in slab dip and maximum depth of seismicity are apparent. Distance along each section is measured from the magmatic arc.”
“B) Central Izu Bonin region. Slab dip is nearly vertical; seismicity tapers off from ~100 km to ~325 km but increases in rate and extends horizontally around 500 km, and terminates at ~550 km.”


  • Engdahl, E.R.; van der Hilst, R.D.; Buland, R., 1998. Global teleseismic earthquake relocation with improved travel times and procedures for depth determination. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 88: 722–743.
  • Hayes, G. P., D. J. Wald, and R. L. Johnson (2012), Slab1.0: A three-dimensional model of global subduction zone geometries, J. Geophys. Res., 117, B01302, doi:10.1029/2011JB008524

Posted in asia, Chemeketa Community College, education, Extension, geology, HSU, plate tectonics, subduction

Earthquake in Izu-Bonin!

Sandy Patton liked this post

Early this morning (luckily I was not awake at the time) we had a really deep (~677km) M = 7.8 extensional earthquake along the Bonin Trench in the western Pacific. Here is the USGS page for this earthquake.

Here is a map that shows the epicenter in red (due to the depth), along with the moment tensor for this earthquake. I also plot the general location of the 1944 Tōnankai and 1946 and Nankai Earthquakes. I also include a cross section for this subduction zone (also from the wikipedia page).

Here I have plotted the slab contours (Hayes et al., 2012).

Here is a regional tectonic map from the wikipedia site on this region.

There is more about the regional tectonics on the USGS page here.

Here is a map showing the general locations of the 1946 Tōnankai and 1944 Nankai Earthquakes.

Posted in Chemeketa Community College, education, Extension, geology, HSU, plate tectonics, subduction, tsunami

Animation of Seismicity along the Alaska/Aleutian Arc

This took me just a few minutes to put together. I searched the USGS earthquakes website with a rectangular search area for earthquakes greater than M = 6.0, downloaded the google Earth kml file with epicenters colored by depth (and animated), and recorded this animation to a video capture application. Here is the search that I used to get these data.

Here is a map showing the epicenters in the following animations. Check out my post about the M 6.7 earthquake from early this morning. I include more information about the regional tectonics on that page (and provide links to other sources too).

Here are two videos that show animations of the seismicity from 1960 until today.

The first one leaves the epicenters on the screen for the entire animation. Here is a link to the file to save to your computer.

This animation has a moving time window (~1 year), so that 1 year after the earthquake, it is removed from the map. Here is a link to the file to save to your computer.

Posted in Uncategorized

Earthquake along the Alaska Penninsula!

Sandy Patton, Edna Cummings liked this post

We just had an earthquake along the Alaska Peninsula. The magnitude is currently set at 6.7 on the USGS website. The Peninsula is a volcanic arc that forms as a result of the subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the North America plate. The second largest earthquake ever recorded by seismometers occurred on March 27, 1964, known as the Good Friday Earthquake. I have posted some material about this earthquake.

Here is an early map showing the epicenter of the Mw = 6.7 earthquake. This earthquake has an oblique strike-slip moment tensor fault plane solution. Based upon the block rotation in the forearc to the west, I suspect that this may be a N-S right-lateral earthquake.

    Here are a couple pages that discuss the Good Friday Earthquake and the general tectonic setting along this plate boundary.

  • 1964 Earthquake Before and After Photo Tour
  • 1964 Earthquake Seismic Wave Propagation Animation
  • June 2013 M 7.9 Rat Islands Earthquake. This page also has some cool animations from the Rat Island Earthquake and tectonic maps of the Aleutian Islands.

Here is a graphic showing what a forearc sliver might look like (from GSA).

Here is a map from Krutikov et al. 2008 (Active Tectonics and Seismic Potential of Alaska, Geophysical Monograph Series 179 Copyright 2008 by the American Geophysical Union. 10.1029/179GM07)
Note that there are blocks that are rotating to accomodate the oblique convergence. There are also margin parallel strike slip faults that bound these blocks. These faults are in the upper plate, but may impart localized strain to the lower plate, resulting in strike slip motion on the lower plate (my arm waving part of this). Note how the upper plate strike-slip faults have the same sense of motion as these deeper earthquakes.

This map shows the region with historic earthquakes extending back to 1960, of magnitude 6,0 and larger. The largest circle in the upper right part of the map is the epicenter for the Good Friday Earthquake.

Here is a map that shows the regional extent of the 1964 earthquake. Regions of coseismic uplift/subsidence are delineated by blue/red polygons.

This shows a cross section of a subduction zone through the two main parts of the earthquake cycle. The interseismic part (inbetween earthquakes) and the coseismic part (during earthquakes). This was developed by George Plafker and published in his 1972 paper on the Good Friday Earthquake.

Here is a map showing the historic earthquakes along this subduction zone. This is from Peter J. Haeussler, USGS, Alaska Science Center.

These are leveling data from the earthquake cycle along the subduction zone in southeastern Japan.

Here is a video that discusses the 1964 earthquake.

Youtube Source IRIS

WMV file for downloading.

Animation & graphics by Jenda Johnson, geologist
Directed by Robert F. Butler, University of Portland
U.S. Geological Survey consultants: Robert C. Witter, Alaska Science Center Peter J. Haeussler, Alaska Science Center
Narrated by Roger Groom, Mount Tabor Middle School
Maps from Google Earth. Video from US Army Corps of Engineers. Tsunami animation from National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Photographs from US Geological Survey.


  • Hyndman and Wang, 1995
  • Plafker, 1972

Posted in alaska, Chemeketa Community College, education, geology, HSU, strike-slip, subduction

Gorda earthquake triggered a Gorda earthquake?

We just had an earthquake along the nodal plane of the Gorda plate earthquake earlier today. Here is the USGS web page for the Gorda M = 4.3 earthquake and here is the USGS web page for the Gorda plate M = 2.9 earthquake. The M = 2.9 earthquake plots at ~30 km depth, which is deeper than the megathrust fault, based upon the McCrory et al. (2006) slab contours.

Here is a map showing these two epicenters. The fault that ruptured during the M = 4.3 earthquake is quite possibly the same fault that ruptured in 2010. However, it seems improbable that this fault would be straight enough to align with the nodal plane in the transparent focal mechanism shown in this figure.

Here is a map from my M = 4.3 earthquake post from earlier today.

I post more material about the Cascadia subduction zone on this 315th anniversary page.


  • McCrory, P. A., Blair, J. L., Oppenheimer, D. H., and Walter, S. R., 2006, Depth to the Juan de Fuca slab beneath the Cascadia subduction margin; a 3-D model for sorting earthquakes U. S. Geological Survey

Posted in cascadia, Chemeketa Community College, education, geology, gorda, HSU, humboldt, strike-slip

Gorda plate earthquake: 2010 zone strikes again

Early this morning we had a small rumbler offshore of northern California, generally in the same location as the 2010.01.10 earthquake. I remember the 2010 earthquake very well as the ground shaking lasted over 20 seconds in Manila. Here is the USGS website for the M 4.3 earthquake. I missed today’s earthquake, but probably would have been awaken by it.

Here is a map that I put together that has some moment tensors for some of the significant earthquakes since 1980. Note how the earthquakes that are in the Gorda plate (read more below) are all left-lateral (sinistral) earthquakes. I also interpret today’s M 4.3 as a left-lateral strike slip earthquake. I discuss more about the deforming Gorda plate below.

This is a close up view of my Moment Tensor / Focal Mechanism (MT/FM) explanation illustration. Moment Tensors and Focal Mechanisms are two ways of depicting the orientation of fault motion based upon seismologic observations. They are calculated differently, but the graphical depiction of their solutions is the same (the beach balls). The illustration below shows how each MT/FM is depicted from map view (as if looking down on Earth from outer space), as well as from side-view (in cross section). These are lower hemisphere projections of spherical data. Note how there are two potential fault planes for each MT/FM. We must use other knowledge about the region in order to be able to best interpret which is the correct fault plane. For the strike-slip example, the fault plane solution is either a left-lateral (purple arrows) or a right-lateral (green arrows) earthquake. Likewise, the normal (extensional, orange arrows) and thrust (compressional, blue arrows) earthquakes are either dipping to the right or to the left.

Here are a couple maps that show the ground shaking intensity estimates for this earthquake.

The first one (intensity map) is based upon computer modeling of ground motions based upon a point source and general attenuation relations (as seismic waves propagate from an earthquake rupture, their energy dissipates as it expands across the region, and their energy is absorbed within Earth materials). Due to this attenuation, the energy content in seismic waves diminishes with distance from the earthquake. Both of these maps use the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale (a relative scale of ground shaking intensity based upon observations made by people).

Here is a map (DYFI map) that is based solely upon the reports provided by people who actually felt the earthquake. These observations can be reported to the USGS via their “Did You Feel It?” web page.

Here is a plot showing the attenuation relations used for the intensity map. There is one attenuation relation model shown (orange line), along with real data shown as green dots. Note how the orange line, which plots intensity on the vertical axis) diminishes with distance (horizontal axis).

    Here are the USGS websites for the earthquakes with moment tensors on the above map.

  • 1980.11.08 M 7.2
  • 1991.08.17 M 7.1
  • 1992.04.25 M 7.2
  • 1994.09.01 M 7.1
  • 2005.06.15 M 7.2
  • 2010.01.10 M 6.5

The Gorda plate is deforming due to north-south compression between the Pacific and Juan de Fuca plates. There have been many papers written about this. The most recent and comprehensive review is from Jason Chaytor (Chaytor et al., 2004). Here is a map of the Cascadia subduction zone, as modified from Nelson et al. (2006) and Chaytor et al. (2004). I have updated the figure to be good for projections in a dark room (green) and to have the correct sense of motion on the two transform plate boundaries at either end of the CSZ (Queen Charlotte and San Andreas faults).

Here is the Chaytor et al. (2004) map that shows their interpretation of the structural relations in the Gorda plate.

This is also from Chaytor et al. (2004) and shows moment tensor solutions for earthquakes in the Gorda plate. Note how they could predominantly be interpreted as northeast striking strike-slip faults.

Here is a map from Rollins and Stein, showing their interpretations of different historic earthquakes in the region. This was published in response to the Januray 2010 Gorda plate earthquake. The faults are from Chaytor et al. (2004).

This map shows an earthquake swarm from 2014, which appears to align along another northeast striking strike-slip earthquake fault in the Gorda plate. This swarm is related to a Mw 6.8 earthquake. Check out my pages about the mainshock and the aftershocks. I made some animations of these earthquakes here.

Here is a primer for those who want to learn more about focal mechanisms. This is from the USGS, where you can read more about them. Moment tensors are calculated differently, but their graphical representation is very similar to that of focal mechanisms.

    Here are some posts of mine for recent earthquakes in the Gorda plate.

  • 2013.12.17 M 4.1
  • 2014.03.10 M 6.8
  • 2014.03.11 M 6.8 aftershocks
  • 2014.03.13 M 5.2 (near the Gorda Ridge)
  • 2015.01.28 M 5.7 (Mendocino fault)


  • Chaytor, J.D., Goldfinger, C., Dziak, R.P., and Fox, C.G., 2004. Active deformation of the Gorda plate: Constraining deformation models with new geophysical data: Geology v. 32, p. 353-356.
  • Nelson, A.R., Kelsey, H.M., and Witter, R.C., 2006. Great earthquakes of variable magnitude at the Cascadia subduction zone: Quaternary Research, doi:10.1016/j.yqres.2006.02.009, p. 354-365.
  • Rollins, J.C. and Stein, R.S., 2010. Coulomb stress interactions among M ≥ 5.9 earthquakes in the Gorda deformation zone and on the Mendocino Fault Zone, Cascadia subduction zone, and northern San Andreas Fault: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 115, B12306, doi:10.1029/2009JB007117, 2010.

Posted in cascadia, Chemeketa Community College, education, geology, HSU, humboldt, mendocino, strike-slip