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Stronger Peak Ground Motion, Beyond the Threshold to Initiate a Response, Does Not Lead to Larger Stream Discharge Responses to Earthquakes


The impressive number of stream gauges in Chile, combined with a suite of past and recent large earthquakes, makes Chile a unique natural laboratory to study several streams that recorded responses to multiple seismic events. We document changes in discharge in eight streams in Chile following two or more large earthquakes. In all cases, discharge increases. Changes in discharge occur for peak ground velocities greater than about 7–11 cm/s. Above that threshold, the magnitude of both the increase in discharge and the total excess water do not increase with increasing peak ground velocities. While these observations are consistent with previous work in California, they conflict with lab experiments that show that the magnitude of permeability changes increases with increasing amplitude of ground motion. Instead, our study suggests that streamflow responses are binary.

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