Earthquakes: Recurrence and interoccurrence times

S. G. Abaimov, D. L. Turcotte, R. Shcherbakov, J. B. Rundle, Gleb Yakovlev, C. Goltz, W. I. Newman

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48 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of this paper is to discuss the statistical distributions of recurrence times of earthquakes. Recurrence times are the time intervals between successive earthquakes at a specified location on a specified fault. Although a number of statistical distributions have been proposed for recurrence times, we argue in favor of the Weibull distribution. The Weibull distribution is the only distribution that has a scale-invariant hazard function. We consider three sets of characteristic earthquakes on the San Andreas fault: (1) The Parkfield earthquakes, (2) the sequence of earthquakes identified by paleoseismic studies at the Wrightwood site, and (3) an example of a sequence of micro-repeating earthquakes at a site near San Juan Bautista. In each case we make a comparison with the applicable Weibull distribution. The number of earthquakes in each of these sequences is too small to make definitive conclusions. To overcome this difficulty we consider a sequence of earthquakes obtained from a one million year "Virtual California" simulation of San Andreas earthquakes. Very good agreement with a Weibull distribution is found. We also obtain recurrence statistics for two other model studies. The first is a modified forest-fire model and the second is a slider-block model. In both cases good agreements with Weibull distributions are obtained. Our conclusion is that the Weibull distribution is the preferred distribution for estimating the risk of future earthquakes on the San Andreas fault and elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)777-795
Number of pages19
JournalPure and Applied Geophysics
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Earthquakes
  • Interoccurrence and recurrence statistics
  • Weibull distribution


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