Articles | Volume 28, issue 8
31 Aug 2010
 | 31 Aug 2010

Estimating the seismotelluric current required for observable electromagnetic ground signals

J. Bortnik, T. E. Bleier, C. Dunson, and F. Freund

Abstract. We use a relatively simple model of an underground current source co-located with the earthquake hypocenter to estimate the magnitude of the seismotelluric current required to produce observable ground signatures. The Alum Rock earthquake of 31 October 2007, is used as an archetype of a typical California earthquake, and the effects of varying the ground conductivity and length of the current element are examined. Results show that for an observed 30 nT pulse at 1 Hz, the expected seismotelluric current magnitudes fall in the range ~10–100 kA. By setting the detectability threshold to 1 pT, we show that even when large values of ground conductivity are assumed, magnetic signals are readily detectable within a range of 30 km from the epicenter. When typical values of ground conductivity are assumed, the minimum current required to produce an observable signal within a 30 km range was found to be ~1 kA, which is a surprisingly low value. Furthermore, we show that deep nulls in the signal power develop in the non-cardinal directions relative to the orientation of the source current, indicating that a magnetometer station located in those regions may not observe a signal even though it is well within the detectable range. This result underscores the importance of using a network of magnetometers when searching for preseismic electromagnetic signals.