Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

Application of real-time GPS to earthquake early warning in subduction and strike-slip environments


Corresponding author: S. Colombelli, Department of Physics, University of Naples “Federico II” Complesso Universitario di Monte S. Angelo, Via Cintia, IT-80126 Naples, Italy. (


[1] We explore the application of GPS data to earthquake early warning and investigate whether the coseismic ground deformation can be used to provide fast and reliable magnitude estimations and ground shaking predictions. We use an algorithm to extract the permanent static offset from GPS displacement time series and invert for the slip distribution on the fault plane, which is discretized into a small number of rectangular patches. We developed a completely “self-adapting” strategy in which the initial fault plane model is built based on a quick, approximate magnitude estimation and is then allowed to increase in size based on the evolutionary magnitude estimation resulting from the slip inversion. Two main early warning outputs are delivered in real-time: magnitude and the along-strike extent of the rupture area. These are finally used to predict the expected ground shaking due to the finite source. We tested the proposed strategy by simulating real-time environments for three earthquakes. For the Mw 9.0, 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake, our algorithm provides the first magnitude estimate of 8.2 at 39 s after the origin time and then gradually increases to 8.9 at 120 s. The estimated rupture length remains constant from the outset at ~360 km. For the Mw 8.3, 2003 Tokachi-Oki earthquake, the initial magnitude estimate is 8.5 at 24 s and drops to 8.2 at 40 s with a rupture length of 290 km. Finally, for the Mw 7.2, 2010 El Mayor-Cucapah earthquake, the magnitude estimate is 7.0 from the outset with a rupture length of 140 km. The accuracy of the ground shaking prediction using the GPS-based magnitude and finite extent is significantly better than existing seismology-based point source approaches. This approach would also facilitate more rapid tsunami warnings.