2017 – An Updated National Seismic Hazard Assessment for Australia: Are We Designing for the Right Earthquakes?

T. Allen, J. Griffin, M. Leonard, D. Clark and H. Ghasemi

Geoscience Australia (GA) has embarked on a project to update the seismic hazard model for Australia through the National Seismic Hazard Assessment (NSHA18) project.The draft NSHA18 update yields many important advances on its predecessors, including: 1) calculation in a full probabilistic framework using the Global Earthquake Model’s OpenQuake-engine; 2) consistent expression of earthquake magnitudes in terms of moment magnitude, MW; 3) inclusion of epistemic uncertainty through the use of alternative source models; 4) inclusion of a national fault-source model based on the Australian Neotectonic Features database; 5)the use of modern ground-motion models; and 6)inclusion of epistemic uncertainty on seismic source models, ground-motion models and fault occurrence and earthquake clusteringmodels.The draft NSHA18 seismic design ground motions are significantly lower than those in the current (1991-era) AS1170.4–2007 hazard map at the 1/500-year annual ground-motion exceedance probability (AEP) level. However, draft values at lower probabilities (i.e., 1/2475-year AEP) are entirely consistent,in terms of the percentage area of land mass exceeding different ground-motion thresholds,with other Stable Continental Regions(e.g.,central & eastern United States). The large reduction in seismic hazard at the 1/500-year AEP level has led to engineering design professionals questioning whether the new draft design values will provide enough structural resilience to potential seismic loads from rare large earthquakes. This process underscores the challenges in developing national-scale probabilistic seismic hazard analyses (PSHAs)in slowly-deforming regions, where a 1/500-year AEP design level is likely to be much lower than theANCOLD Maximum Credible Earthquake (MCE) ground motions. Consequently, a robust discussion among the Standards Australia code committee, hazard practitioners and end users is required to consider alternative hazard and/or risk objectives for future standards.Site-specific PSHAs undertaken for owners and operators of extreme and high consequence dams general-ly require hazard evaluations at lower probabilities than for typical structural designas recommended in AS1170.4.However, modern national assessments, such as the NSHA18, can provide a benchmark in terms of recommended seismicity models, fault-source models, ground-motion models, as well as hazard values, for low-probability site-specific analyses.With a new understanding of earthquake processes in Australia leading to lower ground-motion hazard values for higher probability events (e.g.,1/500-year AEP), we should also ask whether the currently recommended design probabilities provide an acceptable level of seismic resilience to critical facilities (such as dams)and regular structures.

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