Real-time seismology for the 05/12/2008 Wenchuan earthquake of China

A retrospective view

Ke Song Wan, Si Dao Ni*, Xiang Fang Zeng, Sommerville Paul

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)


The devastating 05/12/2008 Wenchuan earthquake (Mw7.9) in Sichuan Province of China showed very few precursory phenomena and occurred on a fault system once assigned to be of moderate long term seismic risk. Given the existing coverage of seismograph stations in Sichuan Province, real-time seismology could have been effective in avoiding some earthquake damage and helping post-earthquake emergency response. In a retrospective view, we demonstrated that the epicenter can be located with 20 km accuracy using just two broadband stations with three-component, which takes only about 10 s after the onset of the earthquake. Initial magnitude is estimated to be M7 with the Tc measurement over first 4 seconds of P waves. Better magnitude estimate can be obtained within 2 min by modeling Pnl waves for stations about 500 km away where the S waveforms are clipped. The rupture area is well revealed by teleseismically-recorded >M5 early aftershocks within two hours after the mainshock. Within a few hours, teleseismic body waves were inverted to derive a more detailed rupture process and the finite fault model can be readily used to calculate ground motions, thus providing vital information for rescue efforts in the case where no real-time strong motion records are available.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-165
Number of pages11
JournalScience in China, Series D: Earth Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Earthquake early warning
  • Rapid location
  • Real-time seismology
  • Strong ground motion

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