Seismic Gap Hypothesis: Ten Years After

Yan Y. Kagan, & David D. Jackson

Published 1991, SCEC Contribution #1

The seismic gap hypothesis states that earthquake hazard increases with time since the last large earthquake on certain faults or plate boundaries. One of the earliest and clearest applications of the seismic gap theory to earthquake forecasting was by McCann et al. (1979), who postulated zones of high, medium, and low seismic potential around the Pacific rim. In the 10 years since, there have been over 40 large (M ≥ 7.0) earthquakes, enough to test statistically the earlier forecast. We also analyze another forecast of long-term earthquake risk, that by Kelleher et al. (1973). The hypothesis of increased earthquake potential after a long quiet period can be rejected with a large confidence. The data suggest that, contrary to these forecasts, places of recent earthquake activity have larger than usual seismic hazard, whereas the segments of the circum-Pacific belt with no large earthquakes in recent decades have remained relatively quiet. The “clustering” of earthquake times does not contradict the plate tectonic model, which constrains only the long-term average slip rate, not the regularity of earthquakes.

Kagan, Y. Y., & Jackson, D. D. (1991). Seismic Gap Hypothesis: Ten Years After. Geophysical Research Letters, 96(B13), 21419-21431.