Topographic amplification of seismic motion including nonlinear response
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Topography effects, the modification of seismic motion by topographic features, have been long recognized to play a key role in elevating seismic risk. Site response, the modification of ground motion by near surface soft soils, has been also shown to strongly affect the amplitude, frequency and duration of seismic motion. Both topography effects and 1-D site response have been extensively studied through field observations, small-scale and field experiments, analytical models and numerical simulations, but each one has been studied independently of the other: studies on topography effects are based on the assumption of a homogeneous elastic halfspace, while 1-D site response studies are almost exclusively formulated for flat earth surface conditions. This thesis investigates the interaction between topographic and soil amplification, focusing on strong ground motions that frequently trigger nonlinear soil response. Recently, a series of centrifuge experiments tested the seismic response of single slopes of various inclination angles at the NEES@UCDavis facility, to investigate the effects of nonlinear soil response on topographic amplification. As part of this collaborative effort, we extended the search space of these experiments using finite element simulations. We first used simulations to determine whether the centrifuge experimental results were representative of free-field conditions. We specifically investigated whether wave reflections caused by the laminar box interfered with mode conversion and wave scattering that govern topographic amplification; and whether this interference was significant enough to qualitatively alter the observed amplification compared to free-field conditions. We found that the laminar box boundaries caused spurious reflections that affected the response near the boundaries; however its effect to the crest-to-free field spectral ratio was found to be insignificant. Most importantly though, we found that the baseplate was instrumental in trapping and amplifying waves scattered and diffracted by the slope, and that in absence of those reflections, topographic amplification would have been negligible. We then used box- and baseplate-free numerical models to study the coupling between topography effects and soil amplification in free-field conditions. Our results showed that the complex wavefield that characterizes the response of topographic features with non-homogeneous soil cannot be predicted by the superposition of topography effects and site response, as is the widespread assumption of engineering and seismological models. We also found that the coupling of soil and topographic amplification occurs both for weak and strong motions, and for pressure-dependent media (Nevada sand), nonlinear soil response further aggravates topographic amplification; we attributed this phenomenon to the reduction of apparent velocity that the low velocity layers suffer during strong ground motion, which intensifies the impedance contrast and accentuates the energy trapping and reverberations in the low strength surficial layers. We finally highlighted the catalytic effects that soil stratigraphy can have in topographic amplification through a case study from the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. Results presented in this thesis imply that topography effects vary significantly with soil stratigraphy, and the two phenomena should be accounted for as a coupled process in seismic code provisions and seismological ground motion predictive models.