United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Guidance Document: Conducting Paleoliquefaction Studies for Earthquake Source Characterization (NUREG/CR-7238)

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Publication Information

Manuscript Completed: January 2017
Date Published: January 2018

Prepared by:
M. Tuttle1
L. Wolf2
P. Mayne3
K. Dyer-Williams4
R. Lafferty5

1M. Tuttle & Associates, P.O. Box 345, Georgetown, ME 04548

2Auburn University, Geosciences, Auburn, AL 36849

3Georgia Institute of Technology, Civil and Environmental Engineering,
Atlanta, GA 30332-0355

4VanLeen Associates, P.O. Box 156, Columbia, MD 21045

5Lafferty-Hess Consultants, 16400 Sigmond Lane, Lowell, AR 72745

Sarah Tabatabai, NRC Project Manager

Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington DC 20555-0001

Availability Notice


Destructive earthquakes, both recent and historical, demonstrate the critical need for paleoliquefaction data to assist with the assessment of the potential for damaging earthquakes around the world. Paleoliquefaction studies, along with other paleoseismic studies such as fault studies, supplement seismicity studies and provide information about the long-term behavior of earthquake sources. Paleoliquefaction studies focus on soft-sediment deformation features, including sand blows and sand dikes, and related ground failures that result from large earthquakes. Most paleoliquefaction studies have been conducted in intraplate geologic settings, but a few such studies have been carried out in interplate settings as well. Paleoliquefaction studies have provided valuable information about timing, location, and magnitude of large paleoearthquakes, particularly those with moment magnitude, M, greater than 6, during the past 50,000 years. Although the results of paleoliquefaction studies have greatly increased the understanding of seismic hazards in a few regions where Holocene (0.01 million years ago, or Ma, to present) and Late Pleistocene (0.126 to 0.01 Ma) age deposits occur, the specific type, level of detail, and quality of paleoliquefaction data vary from one study area to another. This variation is due in part to the lack of standardized procedures for paleoliquefaction studies. There is also a shortage of qualified and experienced paleoliquefaction experts and few comprehensive resources for new investigators or regulators interested in obtaining results from paleoliquefaction studies for characterization of earthquake sources. In order to overcome some of the current deficiencies and advance the field of paleoliquefaction, this document provides detailed guidance for conducting paleoliquefaction studies that will generate high-quality paleoliquefaction data for use in seismic source characterization and seismic hazard assessment. Intended as a comprehensive resource for investigators and regulators interested in the field of paleoliquefaction, this report includes background information on earthquake-induced liquefaction and related ground failures and the resulting soft-sediment deformation features that may be preserved in the geologic record, relevant information derived from the disciplines of geology, geophysics, and geotechnical engineering, an extensive bibliography, and recommendations for future research.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, January 18, 2018