Research Topic 4 (RT4) - The South American Earthquake Catalogue

Participants (pre-1964)

Participants (post-1964)

Creating the SARA Earthquake Catalogue

A homogeneous earthquake catalogue for South America is a fundamental dataset for seismic hazard analysis in the region. Using information from a wide collection of earthquake databases and scientific publications, two groups worked to compile the catalogue, each focusing on different eras: i) the pre-1964 era, in which information is drawn primarily from macroseismic information in historical written sources and early seismic recording networks (Figure below – left panel), and ii) the post-1964 era, in which earthquake information is drawn from global and local instrumental recording networks and compiled databases (Figure below – right panel).


SARA Earthquake Catalogue [pre-1964]

Data Sources

The compilation of the SARA [pre-1964] catalogue was made using the available public material (papers, reports, compilations, bulletins, catalogues) and some in progress information (un-published) made available by the South American collaborators during the execution of the SARA project. In the table below, a list of the major input sources used for the construction of the catalogue, divided by their geographical coverage, is presented.

Geographic coverage T4_ID Reference (short) N. events
Whole continent CERES985 CERESIS[1985] 2399
CERES995 CERESIS[1995] 7669
ENGVI002 Engdahl and Villaseñor [2002] 252
ISCGE013 Storchak et al. [2013; 2015] 216
National BSB012 BSB (2012) 203
ECU014 ECU[2014] 134
FUN014 FUNVISIS[2014] 513
INPRE015 INPREs[2015] 48
LEYAL009 Leyton et al. [2009] 484
TAVAL001 Tavera et al. [2001] 3554
OSC013 OSC [2013] 246
SGC014 SGC[2014] 148

A number of earthquake studies [see table below] was consulted, even though for different reasons not all of them were considered by the compilers of the national catalogues. The archive and parametric catalogue created in the framework of the GEH project [Albini et al., 2013, 2014] was an important input source for larger pre-1900 earthquakes with M>6.5 during the compilation of the SARA [pre-1964] catalogue.

T4_ID Reference (short) N. events T4_ID Reference (short) N. events
ABEK979 Abe[1979] 3 KINAL008 Kingland et al.[2008] 1
ABENO983 Abe&Noguchi[1983] 1 LOMNI004 Lomnitz[2004] 38
ALVBE006 Alvarado&Beck[2006] 2 MOCQ007 Mocquet[2007]
AUDE999 Audemard[1999] 1 PALAL005 Palme et al.[2005] 8
ALVAL009 Alvarado et al.[2009] 1 PALAL009 Palme et al.[2009] 3
BEAAL010 Beauval et al.[2010] 18 RENLA000 Rengifo&Laffaille[2000] 1
BEAAL013 Beauval et al.[2013] 12 SALAL007 Salcedo et al.[2007] 1
CHOAL010 Choy et al.[2010] 2 SALGO013 Salcedo&Gomes[2013] 1
CIST012 Cisternas[2012] 1 SALCA011 Salcedo&Cifuentes[2011] 1
DIMAL005 Dimaté et al.[2005] 8 SARAL010 Sarabia et al.[2010] 1
DORAL990 Dorbath et al.[1990] 16 SARCI011 Sarabia&Cifuentes[2011] 19
DOREL981 Dorel[1981] 1 SGC013 SGC[2013] 52
EGRE004 Egred[2004] 1 SHIVE011 Sism.Hist.Ven.[2011] 48
ESPI003 Espinosa[2003] 7 SISFR010 SisFrance[2010] 4
GOMAL014a Gomez-Capera et al.[2014a] 1 TANSH997 Tanner&Shepherd[1997] 3
GOMAL014b Gomez-Capera et al.[2014b] 1 TELPE005 Tello&Perez[2005] 1
GOMAL015 Gomez-Capera et al.[2015] 32 UDIAL012 Udias et al.[2012] 4

The geographical distribution of events into the study region for major input sources described above is presented in the next figures:

CERESIS95 catalogue ISC-GEM catalogue National catalogues
CERESIS95 ISC-GEM15 National catalogues


The methodology follows the schema proposed in Albini et al. [2013, 2014], were all the information associated to an historical earthquake [location, magnitude, macroseismic data points, maximum intensity and/or epicentral intensity values] are collected and critically organised into an archive of clustered earthquakes. In the archive, each earthquake can be represented by a multiplicity of parameters [from several input sources] and grouped in a “cluster” case by case, by expert judgment, in order to decide which is the “best” or preferred solution. Even though the final decision is taken by an expert judgment, first a preferred location and time solution is selected “a priori” following a hierarchical schema. For the SARA [pre-1964] catalogue, the priority schema to select the preferred events was:

Priority Input Source
1 Storchak et al. [2013; 2015]
2 Engdahl and Villaseñor [2002]
3 Earthquake studies
4 National catalogues
5 CERESIS [1995]
6 CERESIS [1985]

However, when one entry from the national catalogues was “identical” to the one from CERESIS [1995], the last one was selected as “preferred”, as clearly it was the root of them and it gives references. On a second phase, after the definition of a location and time preferred parameters, a procedure to harmonize (or to obtain) a magnitude [Mw] for the “pre-selected” earthquake was created. The earthquake size into the archive has a variety of magnitude types [moment, surface, local, volumetric, others] and in some cases just an Intensity value was provided [Io = epicentral]. Then, a priority/hierarchical scheme was defined to convert the available definition of the earthquake size (magnitude or intensity) into an harmonised [Mw] magnitude. The priority schema was:

Priority Earthquake size
1 Moment magnitude (Mw)
2 Surface magnitude (Ms)
3 Volumetric magnitude (mb)
4 Local magnitude (ml)
5 Other magnitudes (M, UK)
6 Epicentral Intensity (Io)

Following the schema described before, we decided to use a one step conversion schema in the case of a robust conversion relation between the “original” magnitude scale and moment magnitude one was found; otherwise a two steps conversion was preferred. In the next table, the conversion equations used for the harmonisation, the ranges of validity and the related uncertainties are presented.

P/M Catalogue Conversion relation Range Reference
1/Mw all Mw from ISC-GEM catalogue - -
1/Mw all Mw from modern studies or inversion intensity methods (B&W, 1997) - -
to Mw
2/Ms all Mw = 0.67[±0.005]Ms+2.07[±0.03] 3.0 ≤Ms ≤6.1 Scordilis[2006]
Mw = 0.99 [±0.02]Ms+0.08[±0.13] 6.2 ≤Ms ≤8.2 Scordilis[2006]
3/mb all Mw = 0.85 [±0.04]mb+1.03 [±0.23] 3.5 ≤mb ≤6.2 Scordilis[2006]
3/mb BSB Mw = 1.21 mb-0.76 1.6≤mb≤5.5 Assumpção et al.[2014]
6/Io VE Mw = 1.3328+0.5993*Io - Palme et al.[2005]
6/Io EC Mw = 2.58921+0.41494*Io - Beauval et al. [2010]
6/Io BO Mw = 3.9438+0.292*Io 4.94-6.47 Gomes-Capera&Stucchi [2015]
6/Io PE/CL Mw = 4.513+0.286*Io 5.42-8.19 Gomes-Capera&Stucchi [2015]
6/Io CO Mw = 2.761+0.425*Io 4.30-7.11 Gomes-Capera&Stucchi [2015]
6/Io AR Mw = 2.901+0.4287*Io 4.86-7.45 Gomes-Capera&Stucchi [2015]
to Ms
4/M BO M is defined as ML in CERESIS[1985], here adopted as Ms - -
4/m EC m is Ms from Abe[1981] - -
4/K EC/PE K is M obtained from Io (Gutenberg&Richter, 1956), here adopted as Ms - CERESIS [1985]
4/UK CL UK magnitude type, here considered as Ms - Engdahl and Villaseñor [2002]
4/F PE F is Ms from Abe&Nogushi[1983] - Abe&Nogushi[1983]
5/ PE no type specified in CERESIS[1995], here adopted as Ms if > 6.0 - CERESIS[1995]
to mb
4/ml BO TBD (not included in the report) - CERESIS [1995]
4/B CL B indicates MB magnitudes in Abe[1979], here adopted as mb - Abe [1979]
3/ PE no type specified in CERESIS[1995], here adopted as mb if ≤ 6.0 - CERESIS[1995]

P: Priority
M: Magnitude type
AR: Argentina catalogue/dataset
BO: Bolivia catalogue
BSB: Brazilian catalogue
EC: Ecuador catalogue
CL: Chile catalogue
CO: Colombia catalogue/dataset
PE: Peru dataset
VE: Venezuela catalogue

Main results

Leveraging upon the existing ISC-GEM catalogue (Storchak et al., 2015) and the Global Historical Earthquake Archive [GHEA] and Catalogue [GHEC] (Albini et al., 2013, 2014) with the contribution of national information (papers, catalogues, reports), more than 2500 earthquakes (see figure below) reported in the pre-1964 era were critically assessed (e.g. assigned locations, origin times, and magnitudes), with magnitude estimates revised using globally and locally calibrated relations for different magnitude scales, as well as for macroseismic intensity and magnitude.

SARA earthquake catalogue map [pre-1964 and Mw>5] Earthquake history [pre-1964 and Mw>5]
Earthquake history [1900-1964 and Mw>5]

SARA Earthquake Catalogue [post-1964]

Data Sources

The starting point of any catalogue compilation process is an appraisal of available information within the region. Then, the first phase of this component was dedicated to identify the available material (i.e. bulletins, catalogues), in particular the information from the national catalogues, which in most cases is based on unpublished material. Several countries (Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela) shared the most updated version of their catalogues, which in most cases were used for the national PSHA calculations. In addition, information from global datasets such as: the ISC-Bulletins, the NEIC and GCMT catalogues, as well as regional (CERESIS (1995) catalogue) were collected. In the next figures the geographic distribution of epicentres from global and national catalogues is presented.

Global/regional catalogues National catalogues

In the next table the geographic distribution of events by each global and national catalogues is shown [see here for more detailed information]

Geographic coverage T4_ID Reference (short)
Whole continent ISC-GEM Storchak et al. [2013; 2015]
CENT Engdahl and Villaseñor [2002]
National BOL OSC [2010]
BRA BSB [2012]
CSN CSN [2013]
LEY Leyton et al. [2009]
COL SGC [2014]
ECU Beauval et al [2013]
PER Tavera et al. [2001]
VEN FUNV[2012]


From the previous section, it is clear that several catalogues with different spatial coverage are available for South America, but no single catalogue is complete in time, space and magnitude. For this reason, the major goal of this sub-topic was to build a new magnitude-homogenised catalogue combining the available ones. In the next sections the steps commonly taken in the construction of the catalogue, as well as the challenges and pitfalls encountered will be outlined.
The methodology adopted follows methods already discussed in the scientific literature and previously applied in different tectonic contexts (e.g. Weatherill et al., 2016; Beauval et al., 2013; Yadav et al., 2010). We applied a four-step algorithm:

  • To brought all the input/original catalogue to a uniform format,
  • To merge all the catalogues in a unique “working catalogue”,
  • To explore the “working catalogue” to find magnitude combinations,
  • To harmonize the catalogue based in [origin/magnitude] based rules.

Within each of these steps, however, the decisions taken by the modeller will affect the ultimate quality of the harmonised catalogue (e.g. errors assigning or classifying duplicates events). Examples of this process can be found in literature (e.g. Beauval et al, 2013; Grünthal and Wahlström, 2012; Grünthal et al, 2013; CEUS-SSC, 2013). For the construction of the catalogue we used a new open-source tool recently developed at GEM (Weatherill et al., 2016). This tool was used to compile the database, to explore the relation between earthquake solutions provided by different sources (i.e. bulletins, catalogues), to build and apply empirical models for harmonising magnitude scales and, ultimately, to homogenise the earthquake catalogue. Other tools and codes developed by GEM as the Hazard Modeller’s Toolkit (HMTK, Weatherill et al., 2014) were used in the [pre/post] processing of the information, to assess the completeness of the catalogue and identify foreshock and aftershock sequences.

Reformatting the original catalogues

We compile seismological information from catalogues and/or bulletins from several sources with different format and quality. Then, as the main goal is to create a catalogue to be applied in seismic hazard analysis, we adopted an earthquake representation containing the minimum information needed to adequately “represent” origin time, location and magnitude of each event, together with their associated uncertainties, and a sufficient quantity of metadata to help the quality judgements (if necessary).
Our catalogue representation follows the IASPEI Standard Format ( ISF) with some modifications (see here). This format is a reduced version of the comprehensive ISF format, containing only the event title, the origin and the magnitude blocks (each with headers). More detailed information can be found in Weatherill et al. (2016). All catalogues were converted/translated into a uniform format supported by the OQ-catalogue Toolkit: the “headed” ISF. Some characteristics [time and space and magnitude completeness] of several catalogues present in the SARA instrumental catalogue can be shown.

Distribution of epicentres Distribution of events on time
ISC-GEM [v2.0] catalogue
CERESIS [1995] catalogue
Ecuador catalogue Beauval et al. (2013)

Merging the catalogues

Our strategy behind the merging processing follow two major goals: a) do not increase the number of possible duplicate events “a priori” through a proper pre-selection of events, b) to exclude in this stage the events from agencies with poor documented quality determinations [location and magnitude].To explain, this processing we can use the ISC-REV bulletin/dataset as an example. In the ISC-REV bulletin we compile 73801 events from more than 35 Agencies, all of them, with location tagged as preferred [PRIME] by the ISC, with several magnitude types and diverse spatial and time coverage.
We used the catalogue toolkit to identify the spatial and time completeness of the information provided to ISC [ISC-REV bulletins] by the different Agencies into the region. The results regarding the time completeness are presented below in terms of the relative number of events reported by different agencies to ISC. In the left panel we presented the earthquake location solutions provided to the ISC by 37 Agencies in the time period ranging from 1930 to 2014 for the South America region. The acronymics in the Y axis are those used by the ISC, the number of the events reported by each agency is presented too.

All Agencies Pre-selected agencies

A first result of this analysis confirms that before the 1965 only global agencies/catalogues as: ISS, GUTE, CGS provided massive locations in the area. Some determinations [locations and magnitudes] come from not regional agencies as BCIS and MOS and regional compilation (e.g. SYKES catalogue). After 1965, the ISC and the former NEIC (CGS, NEIS, USCGS) location solutions predominated, but around the 1990 some local agencies start to provide temporary [BOG, ANT, CAR, SCB] or permanent [TRN, IGQ, UPA,GUC] location solutions to ISC. Then, we decided to divide “a priori” the catalogue into three different time-periods adopting different modelling parameters on the next steps:
Early instrumental [1930/01/01 - 1964/12/31]: As mentioned before, on this period the information from global agencies/catalogues/compilations is almost the unique available information. The quality of the determination is quite variable, therefore a lesser confidence can be placed in the accuracy of the earthquake location solutions.
Modern instrumental [1964/01/01 - 1992/12/31]: On this era prevailed ISC and US (CGS, NEIS, USCGS, NEIC) global/regional location solutions, but some data from temporary (or incipient permanent) local networks/stations and/or regional compilations (e.g. CERESIS, 1995) are present.
Modern instrumental [1993/01/01 - present]: In the third time-period, local agencies/networks provide the most important contribution, otherwise the information is taken from the global agencies.
In addition, we excluded “a priori” the solutions reported by some agencies such as: LAO [Large Aperture Seismic Array: 3221 events, some of them tagged as PRIME, but probably erroneously clustered], as a source of possible spurious events, due to the poor quality of solutions provided by this Agency, both locations and magnitude (see Ambraseys and Adams, 1986); those not relevant geographically for our purposes (MEX, TAC, UNAH, NAO) and all the local solutions already present in the national catalogues, which we considered a better (and preferred) solution than the first solution (in some case automatic and not revised) provided to ISC.
In the right panel, the agencies reported events to the ISC-REV bulletins that are relevant for the study region, taken into account the considerations explained above, are presented. We made the same analysis for all the catalogues under consideration and during the importation/translation procedure catalogue by catalogue only the most relevant information reported case by case were selected. Obviously, this procedure does not exclude the possibility to find duplicate events during the next step: it only tries to minimize their “existence”.

Finding duplicated events

The definition of the time-distance windows, based on the accuracy of the information provided by the different catalogues, will greatly influence the possibility of founding duplicated events in a proper way. The configuration of the time-distance window, and the quality of the information provided by the catalogue, will greatly influence the possibility of mis-assigning duplicates. Inconsistency or errors in the earthquake event time (e.g. local time versus UTC, rounded second values o absence of them) can difficult, or even may impossible, a proper identification of possible duplicate events from a cluster of them (such as fore-main-after-shock sequences).
To explore the time-distance windows it can be useful to visualise the bivariate distribution of the parameters involved on this process (i.e. Time [DT] and Distance [DL]). The easiest way to do this is to create a kernel density estimation procedure, in which both the bivariate (or joint) relationship between two parameters along with the univariate (or marginal) distribution can be analysed. The joint distributions of Time [DT] and Distance [DL] using this procedure and the working catalogue created in the previous step for the three time-period defined “a priori” can be shown below. These values were used to find the duplicated events during the merging procedure. The full extent of the database, after this processing, contains more than 215000 individual events.

Time [DT] - Distance [DL] window exploration
1930/01/01 - 1964/12/31 1965/01/31 - 1991/12/31 1992/01/01 - 2013/12/31
DT[sec]= 60.0, DL[kms]= 100.0 DT[sec]= 20.0, DL[kms]= 75.0 DT[sec]= 20.0, DL[kms]= 50.0

Exploring magnitude combinations

The data exploration tools offered by the GEM catalogue toolkit were created around three core functionalities: i) reduction of the database to events satisfying a set of specified criteria, ii) extraction of pairwise magnitude and uncertainty datasets for events reported by multiple agencies for comparison of magnitude scales, and iii) fitting of empirical models to describe the scaling between magnitude scales reported by the same or different agencies/networks/catalogues. The first and the second criteria are used on this phase. Using these functionalities, an exhaustive data-mining of local and global networks/agencies/catalogues across South America region was performed for the definition of ad-hoc magnitude conversion rules. We obtained more than 20 Orthogonal Distance Regression [ODR, see Weatherill et al. (2016)] empirical equations between the preferred magnitude scale [Mw] and other magnitude scales [Mw versus Ms, mb, md, ml, UK]. Not all of them were used in the harmonisation processing (see below).

Harmonisation processing

The harmonisation involves two selection hierarchies, one for location and one for magnitude. Here, we define a specific schema of priority for each time-period defined before. The location and magnitude reported by the ISC-GEM are preferred values in both hierarchies. In the early instrumental era, the locations from global bulletins/compilations followed the ISC-GEM are considered as preferred, while in second time-period (1965 - 1992) the priority was given to the ISC and US-related global determinations. The last period (after 1992) can benefit of accuracy localisation from local agencies/networks and then as a general rule, the preferred location solutions are from the local agencies wherever possible. The hierarchical schema for selection of location is presented below.

Period Priority [from higher to lesser]
1930/01/01 - 1964/12/31 ISC-GEM, EHB, ISC, ISS, GUTE, Specific studies
1965/01/01 - 1991/12/31 ISC-GEM, EHB, CENT, ISC, NEIC, GCMT, Specific studies
1992/01/01 - 2013/12/31 BSB, GUC, SGCN, FUNV, IGEPN, FONT, IGQ, SJA, SCB, CASC, UPA,

Specific studies = CERESIS(1995) related sources or specific studies referred on national catalogues

The priority schema for the magnitude conversion was:

OrderMagnitudePriority [from higher to lower]

Finally, the harmonization was performed using the rules previously explained. The harmonised instrumental catalogue has more than 93000 individual events (see figures below).

Distribution of epicentres Distribution of events on time
Magnitude-Frequency distribution


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The SARA T4-pre1964 CATALOGUE can be downloaded at the link provided here Download - Please read the license and disclaimer attached.

The SARA T4-post1964 CATALOGUE can be downloaded at the link provided here Download - Please read the license and disclaimer attached.

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  • hazard_rt4.txt
  • Last modified: 2016/09/20 10:58
  • by Julio Garcia