Data Center FAQ

For questions regarding the new website layout, please see the Website section below.





General SCEDC questions

Data Questions

Q: What data is archived by the SCEDC?
A: The Data Center is the archive of the Southern California Seismic Network (SCSN), which is co-operated by Caltech and the USGS, and has been recording an earthquake catalog since 1932. This network archive is one of the most complete archives of seismic data for any region in the United States. The SCEDC archives seismic waveform data from many sources, but primarily from the SCSN/Trinet network and its Southern California predecessors. Most of the waveform data can be categorized as passive source seismic data collected by broad-band, strong-motion and analog instruments.

We also archive and distribute data for both LARSE I and II seismic survey, data sets from the portable deployments following the Landers, Northridge, El Mayor Cucapah, and 2019 Ridgecrest Sequence earthquakes, and data from the Anza network and SCEC borehole stations. Our collection of non-seismic data includes "survey-mode" precise GPS measurements made in southern California by various universities. The GPS data archive consists of: raw GPS data, RINEX files, indices to the RINEX files, log sheets, and site descriptions.

We also archive datasets by SCEC researchers that are derived from the data recorded by the SCSN. This includes double difference catalogs, template matched catalogs to list two.

Q: What is the difference between the information in the database and "The Catalog"?

A: The Caltech/USGS catalog contains hypocenter information for 1932 through the present. This catalog is available in many formats and contains information such as time, location, depth, magnitude and quality of the solution; the catalog is a summary of the parameters of the event. The information contained in the database is the full suite of parametric information available, including phases, amplitudes, all origins and magnitudes and pointers to the waveforms for an event.

In our current system, all catalog information is derived from the information contained in the database; if an event's magnitude is changed in the database, it is also changed in the catalog. In the past, the supporting parametric data and the catalog existed as separate entities. The problem with this system occurred when the catalog or the supporting data was changed in one place and not in the other -- the underlying data becomes separated from the catalog version of the event. This problem was compounded by the existence of multiple instances of the catalog.

Q: How do I tell what data is available from the SCEDC?

A: There are 2 ways to check on waveform data availability. One is to use our availability web service. The other is to use the STP client. STP offers several query modes about waveform data availability as well as data about stations, channels and events.

If you're interested in searching for basic event information such as date, time, location, depth and magnitude, this information is available via our catalog search page.

Q: Is it possible to obtain non-event data (background signal)?
A: The SCEDC continuous-data archives originally consisted of TriNet digital broadband stations from late 1999. Starting in 2008, continuous high sample rate broadband and analog data channels were also archived. Starting in 2010, all continuous data channels, broadband and strongmotion were archived at the SCEDC. For a list of stations available in the archive for a given time, use the STP and type "HELP STA" at the "STP>" prompt. If you use the availability webservice, use the query endpoint.

Q: What networks does the SCEDC have data for?

A: Over 20 year history the SCEDC has data from the following networks:

AZ  ANZA Regional Network
BC  Red Sísmica del Noroeste de México (RESNOM)
BK  Berkeley Digital Seismic Network (BDSN)
CE  California Strong Motion Instrumentation Program
CI  Caltech/USGS Regional Seismic Network (SCSN/TriNet)
EN  CalEnergy Sub Network
FA  UCLA Seismic Network
GS  US Geological Survey Networks
GO  USGS Golden Network LA Los Angeles Basin Seismic Network
LA  Los Angeles Basin Seismic Network
LI  Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave experiment (LIGO)
MX  Mexican National Seismic Network
NC  USGS Northern California Regional Network
NN  Western Great Basin/Eastern Sierra Nevada
NP  United States National Strong-Motion Network
NR  NARS Array SN Southern Great Basin Network
PB  Plate Boundary Observatory Borehole Seismic Network (PBO)
PG  Central Coast Seismic Network, PG&E
RB  Red Sísmica de Banda Ancha (RESBAN)
SN  Southern Great Basin Network
TA  USArray Transportable Array (EarthScope_TA)
UG  Unocal Geothermal Northern California Network
WR  California Division of Water Resources
ZY  Various Portable Networks in Southern California

Historic networks have been incorporated into currently operating networks. For instance, TERRAscope (TS) stations are now under the CI network.

Q: What format and on what medium is the data stored?

A: All waveform data is archived in mSEED format on storage arrays. The SCEDC uses the Continuous Waveform Buffer, developed at the USGS as its primary archival software.

The parametric data is archived on two replicated databases. These instances run on separate computers in different locations in order to provide backup in case of a computer failure and to allow downtime during maintenance without interrupting user access. The databases are kept synchronized through two-way replication which update every 4 seconds. Data from the real-time acquisition system are pushed to the SCEDC database via one-way snapshot replication so data is available in near real-time.

Q: How do I find what stations were recording data during a specific event?

A: You would use the EAVAIL command in STP to list the available triggered waveform archive entries for that event by its event ID.

Q: How do I retrieve data from stations that are a certain distance from the epicenter of an event?

A: The STP Client "trig" command has a parameter -radius. TRIG -net CI -radius 100 9589201 retrieves CI stations within 100 km radius of the event 9589201.

Q: How do I know if I'm running the latest version of the STP client?

A: A message saying "You are currently running the latest version of STP" will appear when you start STP. If you are not running the latest version, you will get a message telling you that your version of STP is out of date and instructions on how to download the latest version.

Q: Why do event IDs seem to increase over time, but then "jump" to a lower number?

A: For current data, the number of digits has to do with which of the real-time servers generated the event ID. There are two real-time servers that mirror one another, so that if the one designated as primary goes down or needs maintenance, the other machine running in parallel can assume the primary role quickly and easily.

Q: How long does it take for an event to be "Reviewed by a Seismologist"?

A: There's no hard and fast rule about when the most recent data will have been checked. In times of low seismicity, analysts will have reviewed a day's automated data by the end of that workday. Mondays, or the first workday after an extended holiday, will often be an exception, since the automated system will have generated a few days' backlog to analyze. Swarms, major quakes, and other increases in seismicity will also slow the process down.

Analysis by a human will weed out junk "events" such as microwave glitches the automated system has mistaken for a quake; make minor adjustments to magnitude and location; and the like. Some events are checked more than once--larger quakes (generally, those greater than M3.0 and/or those that have been felt by the public) typically are given a cursory review by the duty seismologist to verify that the data look credible; later, the event undergoes more thorough analysis.

As long as there have been no major quakes in southern California, you're usually pretty safe in assuming that week-old data have been checked. After a major quake, though, all bets are off! The analysts will typically pick out the events of greatest magnitude, saving smaller quakes (e.g., less than M3.0 or M4.0) for when things calm down.

Q: Why do you have duplicate Catalog entries for some events? Why do you show two events in your catalog for the 2006 San Simeon event? Which one is correct, and which do you consider to be the SCEDC official San Simeon earthquake? Why is one listed as a teleseism, and one as a regional?

From STP:

Event ID Type T0 Lat Long Depth Mag Mag Type

9966485 ts 2003/12/22,19:15:56.000 35.7000 -121.1000 8.00 6.50 w 0.0 9966449 re 2003/12/22,19:15:56.760 35.7085 -121.1043 7.01 6.54 l 0.5

# Number of events= 2

A: This is our standard operating procedure for large events. The San Simeon earthquake occurred in northern California, so it is considered a regional event for us in southern California. The magnitude/location solution that was calculated using our methodology at Caltech is the regional (re) solution and the teleseismic (ts) solution was supplied by the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC). The authoritative solution for this event is the ts version which was provided to the NEIC by the Northern California Seismic Network and is available as a local event in the NCEDC catalog.

The waveforms associated with the ts version have a much longer time window than we typically archive for local events. For teleseismic events a distance-magnitude window is used to determine how much data to save. We archive 2000 seconds of waveform data for a M>=6 event at 30 degrees and 3000 seconds for M>=7 anywhere. For larger local events (M > 3.5), the entire array is recorded for ~200 seconds.

We would also have two versions if it were in our authoritative region e.g., the Northridge event has our local solution as well as a teleseismic version.

Q: What is a Location Code? How does the SCEDC use it?

A: The SCEDC uniquely describes the seismograms we archive and distribute using the FDSN (Federation of Digital Seismic Network) system, which includes the following four fields:

  • Network (2 characters)
  • Station (3-5 characters)
  • SEED Channel (3 characters; see SEED Reference Manual Appendix A)
  • Location Code (2 characters)


Location Code is used to distinguish between multiple seismograms with identical station and channel names. For example, a station equipped with both STS-1 and STS-2 broadband high gain seismometers would produce two data streams with the same net.sta.cha identification. Also, the SCSN uses orientation codes of [1,2,3] for data channels from downhole sensors and [Z,N,E] for traditionally-oriented surface channels. Without Location Codes, we cannot have multiple downhole sensor packages without changing the station or channel names on the second to n-th downhole sensors.

Currently, the default value for SCSN Location Codes is blank i.e., that field contains two blank spaces. For instances where a different Location Code is necessary to uniquely describe a data stream, the SCSN will follow the SEED convention of allowed characters (A-Z, 0-9, space) and identify streams with "01" for the first non-unique stream, "02" for the second, etc. Users (or their software) should not assume that Location Codes have a meaning; the SCSN will not use this field to encode information like emplacement depth, preferred channel, sensor type, orientation etc. However, the full SCNL description can be used as a unique key into complete descriptive information about the characteristics of the data stream.

SCEDC users should be aware that if you do not specify a Location Code in your data request, the Data Center will provide all seismograms that match that, so you may receive multiple seismograms where you only expect one. For ASCII output where Location Code is a whitespace-delimited field, a blank-blank Location Code will be assigned "--" and when parsing ASCII input, "--" should be interpreted as 2 blanks.

The naming convention for seismograms will be to only include the Location Code in the filename if it is something other than the default value of blank-blank:

Triggered Waveforms
14176696.CI.USB.HLE.sac and 14176696.CI.USB.HLE.01.sac (if there is an 01 Loc Code)

Continuous Waveforms
20050831000000.CI.USB.HLE.sac and 20050831000000.CI.USB.HLE.01.sac (if there is an 01 Loc Code)

Fault Questions

Q: Why don't you put the faults on which the earthquake occurred on the recent earthquakes reports and index maps?

A: For most of the earthquakes you see on the map every day--those that are too small to cause surface rupture--we don't know what faults are involved. Many earthquakes occur on small, unnamed subsidiary faults located near larger, well-known faults. When we locate an earthquake, there is always uncertainty (a hundred meters or more) about the exact location of its hypocenter (the point within the earth where an earthquake rupture starts). The epicenter, the projection of the hypocenter to the surface, not only has this same uncertainty, but it has very little relevance--earthquakes happen many kilometers beneath the surface, and along surfaces, not just at points.

Our automated text reports used to include a line that gave the distance between a quake's hypocenter and the nearest fault. This wasn't because we were drawing a correlation between the two, but rather, for reference (around here, we tend to have the southern California fault map memorized, like many people know freeway layouts). However, we eliminated that line because people erroneously concluded that the fault mentioned was the fault on which the earthquake had occurred.

Q: How can I obtain Southern California GIS fault information on your Significant Event and Fault Map?

A: The GIS fault information available through our site is an adaptation of our clickable fault map, created by The Redlands Institute, University of Redlands. For authoritative fault information, please use the fault maps produced by the California Geological Survey.

Station Questions

Q: How do I get station response information?

A: The SCEDC has several ways to retrieve station response information. One is to use the station webservice. FDSNStationXML files for all CI stations are also available in the AWS Public Dataset. Another is to download dataless SEED. You can use STP's CHAN command with the -l flag to retrieve a long listing of channel information which includes simple response information. For a quick list of channels and their overall response consult the station list report. For more information please see our Station Metadata and Maps section.

Q: Can I assume that the start date in station metadata is when I would find data in the archive?

A: It would be better to use our availability web services to confirm when data becomes available. In general though, after year 2010, if the station has the CI network code, its availability in the archive should closely match its metadata ondate. Prior to 2010, the earliest availability for a CI seismic channel would depend on our continuous archival policy.
For non-CI data, it is always best to check the availability web service. Often the SCSN will start importing a station from a partner network sometime after its installation.

Website Questions

Q: Can we reproduce photos or images from your site?

A: You're welcome to use our material, provided (a) you give us credit for it, and (b) you're not using it for commercial purposes. Where possible, we prefer that people link to our site, provided it's clear to the user that (s)he is leaving your site and entering ours.

If these are images/graphs/maps we created, you may use them with proper crediting. However, if you're interested in photographs, it is necessary for you to get permission from the photographers. Photographer credits appear after the photo captions. We cannot grant permission to download the photos because we don't hold the rights to them -- we obtained permission to use the photos years ago. For photographs, you might want to try contacting the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, which sells collections of earthquake-damage images. See samples of their Northridge set.

Q: What are the differences between the old and new websites?

A: We hope you find the website easier to use. Some items have moved.

  • Significant Earthquakes and Faults is now under "Earthquake Info"
  • Download Data has been renamed to "Access Data"
  • Stations is now under "Access Data"
  • The FAQ section now has its own section under the menu bar.

  • General SCEDC Questions

    Q: What is the difference between the SCEDC and SCEC?

    A: The Southern California Earthquake Data Center (SCEDC) operates at the Seismological Laboratory at Caltech and is the primary archive of earthquake data for southern California. The Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) is headquartered at the University of Southern California and is a community of scientists and specialists who actively coordinate research on earthquake hazards. The Data Center is a central resource of SCEC and is supported by SCEC, but we are a separate entity. It is confusing, particularly because our names are very similar (the difference is the "d" for data!), and our old URL "" was once within the domain.

    Q: What happens when a major event happens during non-business hours?

    A: The Duty Seismologist reviews larger quakes shortly after they happen; she/he makes sure the automated location and magnitude are credible. This involves a scan of waveform data from the seismic stations nearest the quake's epicenter, and typically takes only a few minutes more. (You can view waveform data similar to what the duty seismologist uses by clicking the "waveforms" link near the bottom of the event report.)

    Subsequently, an analyst will look over all the data that were captured for the event. The waveform data come from hundreds of stations that each have multiple channels (e.g., north-south, east-west, up-down). For a quake of substantial magnitude, full analysis can take over an hour. Some larger quakes will be reviewed more than once and/or by multiple analysts. Sometimes, the magnitude calculated after analysis goes up. Sometimes it goes down. Interestingly, nobody has ever written to ask why a magnitude calculation has gone up. When one goes down, though, people inevitably wonder why.

    Q: Can you email me when there is an earthquake?

    A: We don't have an email notification service, but the US Geological Survey offers one.

    Q: Will my home survive an earthquake?

    A: The Southern California Earthquake Data Center does not provide safety evaluations. We are not able to provide specific and personalized recommendations for home safety because we do not have expertise in this area. If you want a professional opinion regarding site-specific questions, you'll need to confer with an architect or engineering geologist.