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Gutenberg-Richter b-value maximum likelihood estimation and sample size

Article  in  Journal of Seismology · June 2016


DOI: 10.1007/s10950-016-9589-1

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Gutenberg-Richter b-value Maximum Likelihood Estimation and Sample
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7 Size
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14 F.A.Nava, V.H.Márquez-Ramírez, F.R. Zúñiga, L.Ávila-Barrientos, C.B.Quinteros
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Abstract
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The Aki-Utsu maximum-likelihood method is widely used for estimation of the
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25 Gutenberg-Richter b-value, but not all authors are conscious of the method’s limitations
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27 and implicit requirements. The Aki/Utsu method requires a representative estimate of the
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30 population mean magnitude; a requirement seldom satisfied in b-value studies,
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32 particularly in those that use data from small geographic and/or time windows, such as b-
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35 mapping and b-vs-time studies. Monte-Carlo simulation methods are used to determine
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37 how large a sample is necessary to achieve representativity, particularly for rounded
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magnitudes. The size of a representative sample weakly depends on the actual b-value. It
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42 is shown that, for commonly used precisions, small samples give meaningless estimations
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44 of b. Our results give estimates on the probabilities of getting correct estimates of b for a
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47 given desired precision for samples of different sizes. We submit that all published
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49 studies reporting b-value estimations should include information about the size of the
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52 samples used.
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62 1
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4 1. Introduction
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7 Possibly the most widely used statistical relation in seismology is the Gutenberg-Richter
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10 (G-R) distribution (Ishimoto and Iida 1939; Gutenberg and Richter 1944; Richter 1958),
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12 which relates the number of earthquakes above a given magnitude, N ( M ) , to the
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15 magnitude, M, as
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18 log10 N (M ) a b (M M1 ); M M1 , (1)
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21 where M1 is a lower threshold below which magnitudes are not considered. Parameter a
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24 is the logarithm of the total number of earthquakes with magnitude M M1 , and is a
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27 constant that depends on the seismicity rate and the length of the observation time.
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29 Parameter b, widely referred to as the b-value, hereafter referred to as b, is a constant
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32 that relates the relative numbers of small to large magnitudes. Typically, b ~ 1, and M1
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35 is the completeness magnitude below which log10 N( M ) ceases to behave linearly due to
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37 insufficient coverage (e.g. Wiemer and Wyss 2000).
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Usually M1 is estimated from the observed log10 N( M ) or from the non-cumulative
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log10 n( M ) histograms, which requires a sufficiently representative magnitude sample.
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46 However, this is not always the case: sometimes M1 may be estimated for a given data
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49 set, and then used for a different dataset; not uncommon is the use of the completeness
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51 magnitude appropriate for the complete data set of a given seismic network or array in
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54 studies involving subsets of the data.
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62 2
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4 Since the G-R relation gives estimates for the occurrence ratio of earthquakes with
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7 magnitudes above a given value, b has been widely used for seismic hazard and risk
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9 estimations (e.g. Bender 1983). An inverse relationship between b and the stress level in a
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12 given region has been proposed (e.g. Scholz 1968; Ghosh et al. 2008), and several studies
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14 have found possibly premonitory behavior in the values of b before large earthquakes (e.g.
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17 Shaw et al. 1992; Wyss and Wiemer 2000; Enescu and Ito 2001; Márquez-Ramirez 2012).
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19 Regional variations of b have been used to identify zones susceptible to large ruptures
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21 (e.g. Wiemer and Wyss 1997; Zúñiga and Wyss 2001, Montuori et al. 2010). Since Aki
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24 (1981) proposed a relation between b and the fractal dimension of fault planes, b has been
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26 emplyed in seismic fractality studies (e.g. Singh et al. 2009).
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29 The many applications of b in seismology, particularly on the field of seismic hazard
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32 estimation, indicate the necessity of estimating b correctly in order to obtain meaningful
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34 and reliable results. In what follows we will address the problem of sampling and the
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37 reliability associated with it.
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2. The Problem
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51 Equation (1) implies that magnitudes are distributed exponentially as
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54 ( M M1 )
55 f (M ) e ; M M1 , (2)
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58 where b ln(10) .
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62 3
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4 Based on the premise of this magnitude distribution, Aki (1965) showed that the
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7 maximum-likelihood estimate of b is
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log
10 e
10 𝑏 = 𝑀̅−𝑀 (3)
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14 where M is the observed mean magnitude.
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17 In practice, magnitudes are rounded to some M , usually M 0.1 , and when
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19 magnitudes are rounded, the actual minimum magnitude is M1 M / 2 and, instead of
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22 (3), Utsu’s (1965) formula
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25 log10 e
𝑏 = 𝑀̅−(𝑀 (4)
26 1 −∆𝑀/2)
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29 is applicable.
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32 Once M1 has been estimated, formulae (3) or (4) have been used as a simple and
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straightforward way of estimating b, which is less cumbersome than that of fitting a
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37 straight line to the magnitude histogram.
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40 However it is often not taken into account that b and M in the above mentioned
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formulae are population parameters; the actual formula used for estimation is
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45 log10 e
46 𝑏̂ = ̂ −(𝑀 −∆𝑀/2)
̅
(5)
𝑀 1
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50 where b̂ and M̂ are estimates; and b̂ will agree with b only if M̂ is representative of,
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i.e. reasonably close to, the true M . This, in turn, means that M̂ should be calculated
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55 from an adequate sample, i.e. one that includes enough data, but in many cases it is
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57 estimated from too small samples, either because data are scarce or because no attention
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60 is paid to the matter of representativity.
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An example of studies where this problem may appear is b-mapping, where M1 is
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7 estimated for a given data set in some región, and then the region is subdivided in volume
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10 elements or cells, and some of these cells may not include enough data to yield a reliable
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12 estimate (e.g. Khan 2005, Bhattacharya et al. 2002, Singh and Singh 2015). Another
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15 example is the study of changes in b vs time, where M̂ is determined from the data in
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17 time windows, and there is a tradeoff between the length and/or number of data in the
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20 time window and the resolution in time. In these and other cases, not only data may not
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22 be enough, but the overall M1 may not be appropriate for all data subsets.
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26 The question arises: How many data are enough for M̂ to be representative and b̂ to be
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29 reliable? The answer, of course, depends on the desired precision of b̂ ; so we will
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31 rephrase the question: What is the minimum number of data required in a sample, to
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34 achieve a desired precision for b̂ with a given probability?
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37 Shi and Bolt (1982), hereafter referred to as SB, give an analytical estimate of the b̂
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40 distribution for unrounded magnitudes, as a function of the number of samples N, for
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43 stationary b, and for N large enough for M̂ to approach a normal distribution; the b̂
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45 distribution is
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48 𝑁 𝑏 𝑏 2
49 𝑔(𝑏̂) = √ ̂2 exp [−𝑁 ( ̂ − 1) /2] (6)
2π 𝛽 𝑏
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53 How well does formula (5) agree with b̂ determinations for samples with small N?
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56 In what follows we use Monte Carlo methods to simulate actual sampling in order to
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explore the distribution of b̂ for samples of different sizes and different true values of b.
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4 Our results let us determine the range of applicability of (5), explore the effects of small
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7 N and of magnitude rounding, and establish some quantitative guidelines for sampling.
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13 3. Monte Carlo estimation of sampling
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16 We simulate magnitude sampling, in the ( M1 , M 2 ) magnitude range from the Gutenberg-
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19 Richter distribution as
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22 𝑀 = 𝑀1𝑞 − ln(𝑟)/𝛽 , (7)
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25 where M1q and M 2q equal M1 and M 2 , respectively, when considering unrounded
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28 magnitudes, and equal 𝑀1 − ∆𝑀/2 and 𝑀2 + ∆𝑀/2 , respectively, when considering
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30 magnitudes rounded to ∆𝑀. r is a uniformly distributed pseudo-random number in the
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33 (0,1) interval, generated using the Matlab rand function with the Twister generator,
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35 discarding magnitudes larger than an arbitrary upper limit M 2q = 9.2 set to avoid
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38 unacceptably large (potentially infinite) magnitudes; since very large magnitudes are very
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41 scarce, this limit does not significantly affect results.
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44 We also tried the doubly-truncated Gutenberg-Richter distribution, as
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47 𝑀 = −ln[e−𝛽𝑀1𝑞 − 𝑟(e−𝛽𝑀1𝑞 − e−𝛽𝑀2𝑞 )]/𝛽,
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50 but, since both manitude generating schemes yielded essentially the same results, because
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their outputs differ only for very large magnitudes close to M 2 , and since the Aki-Utsu
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55 estimates assume a singly truncated exponential distribution, we present here only the
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58 results obtained from (7)
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5 Figure 1 shows results from 250,000 realizations, each, of b̂ determinations, for a true
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7 b = 1.0, from samples having from 10 to 100,000 data. The thick (blue) line shows the
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10 mean of all estimated b̂ values for each sample size, and the thin (red) lines show the
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12 mean ±1 standard deviation (continuous) and ±2 standard deviations (dashed).
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15 The graph on the left hand side is for unrounded magnitudes, and shows quantitatively
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18 exactly what would be expected qualitatively; the graph on the right side is for
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20 magnitudes rounded to the customary 0.1. Both graphs show that estimates from small
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samples, besides being probably overestimated, are really meaningless because standard
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25 deviations are extremely large. The estimate averages over a large number of realizations
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27 are overestimated, because small magnitudes are much more numerous than large
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30 magnitudes. Thus, any one b̂ estimation from less than, say, 300 data can take values
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over a range of several tenths of a unit with large probability.
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While, for large samples the mean estimate from unrounded magnitudes converges to the
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38 true value, for rounded magnitudes large samples lead to an underestimation of it, unless
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40 a correction for rounding is applied (see, for example, Márquez-Ramírez et al., 2014),
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43 because the magnitude value at the center of each class is not an unbiased representative
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45 of the magnitudes in the class. This is a minor effect that will be ignored in what follows.
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48 To illustrate how individual estimates can be expected to behave, we obtained b̂
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51 histograms for some representative sample sizes, true b values, and desired precisions.
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53 All histograms were obtained from sets of 500,000 realizations for each data set length,
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56 and the corresponding SB analytical distributions are plotted over the histograms for
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58 comparison.
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Figure 2 shows, on the left, the histograms (blue, continuous lines) with classes ∆𝑏̂ =
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7 0.010 wide, for b̂ estimated from unrounded magnitudes distributed according to (2) for
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10 b = 1.00 and different sample sizes; it also shows the corresponding SB analytical
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12 distributions (red, dashed lines). There is extremely good agreement between histogram
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15 and distribution for samples with 𝑁 ≥ 100 , while for samples below N ~ 50 the
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17 agreement is not so good, because N is not large enough to fulfill the SB assumptions, but
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it is not too bad although the modal values do not coincide. As mentioned before, the
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mean b̂ values seriously overestimate the true b values for samples below N ~ 100 .
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26 However, as shown on the right in Figure 2, the situation is quite different for b̂
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28 estimated from the same magnitudes as in the previous case, rounded now, as is usual in
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practice, to one decimal place. The histograms show gaps due to the fact that means from
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33 only a few rounded magnitudes cannot take all values over the specified magnitude
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36 range; hence, possible magnitude means result in peaks for the corresponding b̂ estimates.
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38 This appearance of preferred values is reduced as samples get larger, but samples larger
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than ~200 are needed before the histogram resembles the SB distribution.
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Table 1 lists, for each N, the histogram mean and standard deviation values, as well as the
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46 probabilities Pr ( b̂ = b) , Pr ( b̂ < b) , and Pr ( b̂ > b) , denoted by Pr, Pr-, and Pr+,
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49 respectively, for each given ∆𝑏̂; these probabilities are obtained from the Monte Carlo
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51 realizations, so they should not be interpreted as figures arrived to analytically, but as
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54 probable values that, however, do not change significantly between different realizations.
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57 From this table it can be seen that the probabilities of getting a correct estimate of
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b = 1.00 with ∆𝑏̂ = 0.010 precision is extremely low (<0.1) for samples of up to 500
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4 magnitudes, and is low (<0.5) for samples as large as 10,000. Thus, results from studies
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7 claiming to distiguish changes in b of ±0.01 from less than about 20,000 events should
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9 be taken with a (large) grain of salt.
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12 Of course, reducing the desired precision increases the probability of obtaining a correct,
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15 albeit less precise, result. Figure 3 presents histograms for the same rounded magnitude
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17 data set for ∆𝑏̂ = 0.025 (left) and ∆𝑏̂ = 0.050 (right), and the corresponding
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20 probabilities are listed in Table 1. For 0.025 precision, a reasonably good agreement
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22 between histogram and the SB distribution is obtained for N ~ 100 and estimating the
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25 correct b attains an even chance from samples of about 4,000 events. For 0.05 precision
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27 0.5 probability is attained for less than 1,000 events, and there is a high probability of a
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correct estimation from about 2,000 events on.
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32 Since the magnitude population depends on the b value, results are slightly
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35 different for different values of b; for considerations of space, we will only show here the
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histograms for ∆𝑏̂ = 0.050, for the representative values b = 0.80 and b = 1.20 (Figure
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40 4), and list the resulting probabilities in Tables 2 and 3, respectively.
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43 As can be seen from the histograms and the tables, for small samples correct estimation
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45 of b is easier and the fit of the histograms to the SB distribution is better, for small than
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48 for large b-values.
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51 For small samples in all cases the mean and the mode in the histograms tell different
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53 stories: if a measurement is repeated many (thousands of) times and b is estimated from
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56 the mean, the result would be overvalued; on the other hand, any single measurement will
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58 probably result in an overvalued estimation.
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4 4. Discussion
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7 In the results presented above no correction was made for the fact that the mean from
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10 rounded magnitudes is not equal to the “true” mean from unrounded magnitudes, because
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12 the magnitude representative of a given class is not an unbiased estimator of the
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15 magnitudes containe in the class (e.g. Bender 1983; Tinti and Mulargia 1987, Márquez et
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17 al. 2015); nor were mean magnitude estimates corrected for large magnitude sampling (eg.
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Nava et al. 2015). However, such corrections are small and would not significantly
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22 change the results.
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25 From our results, it is clear that results from papers dealing with b estimates from less
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27 than ~12,000, ~2000, and ~500 magnitude data for precisions of 0.01, 0.025, and 0.50
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30 magnitude units, respectively, are valueless. Some papers show results from ~10 data, but
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32 most do not even report the amount of data used, so their results are not reliable; we will
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35 not reference here examples of these useless papers, but instead recommend a strong
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37 caveat to the readers of these papers.
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40 It is also clear that papers reporting b estimates should always report the size of the
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sample(s) used for estimation, in order that the reader may know how reliable the
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45 measurements are, and how likely are results from small samples to be overvalued.
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48 For spatio-temporal variations in b to be significant, whatever the method used for
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50 mapping (e.g. Wiemer and Wyss 2002; Kamer and Hiemer 2015), each b map should
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53 have a sister N map.
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4 Acknowledgments
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7 Many thanks to José Mojarro for technical support.
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13 References
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16 Ghosh A, Newman A, Amanda M, Thomas A, Farmer G (2008) Interface locking along
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19 the subduction megathrust from b-value mapping near Nicoya Peninsula, Costa
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21 Rica. Geophys Res Lett 35, L01301. doi:10.1029/2007GL031617
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24 Aki K (1965) Maximum likelihood estimate of b in the formula log(N) = a - bM and its
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26 confidence limits, Bull Earthq Res Inst Tokio Univ 43: 237–239.
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29 Aki K (1981) A probablistic synthesis of precursory phenomena. In: Earthquake
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31 prediction and international review, Simpson D and Richards P (eds), Am Geophys
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34 U, pp 566-574.
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36 Bender B (1983) Maximum likelihood estimation of b values for magnitude grouped data.
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39 Bull Seism Soc Am 73: 831–851.
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41 Bhattacharya P, Majumdar R, Kayal J (2002) Fractal dimension and b-value mapping in
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44 northeast India. Curr Sci 82: 1486-1491.
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46 Enescu B, Ito K (2001) Some premonitory phenomena of the 1995 Hyogo-Ken Nanbu
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49 (Kobe) earthquake: seismicity, b-value and fractal dimension. Tectonophysics 338:
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54 Gutenberg B, Richter C (1944) Frequency of earthquakes in California. Bull Seismol Soc
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12 Kamer Y, Hiemer S (2015) Data-driven spatial b-value estimation with applications to
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14 California seismicity: to b or not to b. doi: 10.1002/2014JB011510
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17 Khan P (2005) Mapping of b-Value beneath the Shillong plateau. Gondwana Research 8:
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19 271-276. doi:10.1016/S1342-937X(05)71126-6
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22 Márquez-Ramírez V, Nava F, Zúñiga F (2015) Correcting the Gutenberg-Richter b-value
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27 doi:10.1007/s11589-015-0116-1.
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34 mecanismo para la fractalidad mediante modelado semiestocástico. PhD Thesis,
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42 Montuori C, Falcone G, Murru M, Thurber C, Reyners M, Eberhart-Phillips D (2010)
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44 Crustal heterogeneity highlighted by spatial b-value map in the Wellington region
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47 of New Zealand. Geophys J Int 183: 451-460. doi:10.1111/j.1365-
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49 246X.2010.04750.x
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52 Nava F, Márquez-Ramírez V, Zúñiga F, Lomnitz C (2015) Gutenberg-Richter b-value
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57 Richter C (1958) Elementary seismology. W H Freeman and Co, USA.
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4 Scholz C (1968) The Frequency-Magnitude Relation of Microfracturing in Rock and its
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7 Relation to Earthquakes. Bull Seismol Soc Am 58: 399-415.
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9 Shaw E, Carlson J, Langer J (1992) Patterns of Seismic Activity Preceding Large
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Shi Y, Bolt B (1982) The standard error of the magnitude-frequency b value. Bull
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Singh C, Singh A, Chadha R (2009) Fractal and b-Value Mapping in Eastern Himalaya
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27 Singh C, Singh S (2015) Imaging b-value variation beneath the Pamir-Hindu Kush region.
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32 Tinti S, Mulargia F (1987) Confidence intervals of b-values for grouped magnitudes. Bull
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Seismol Soc Am 77: 2125–2134.
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37 Wiemer S, Wyss M (1997) Mapping the frequency-magnitude distribution in asperities:
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47 examples from Alaska, the Western United States, and Japan, Bull Seismol Soc Am
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52 Wiemer S, Wyss M (2002) Mapping spatial variability of the frequency-magnitude
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distribution of earthquakes. Adv Geophys 45: 259–302.
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57 Wyss M, Wiemer S (2000) Change in the probability for earthquakes in southern
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60 California due to the Landers magnitude 7.3 earthquake, Science 290: 1334.
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4 Figure Captions
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8 Figure 1. Estimated b̂ vs sample size N. Left: Unrounded magnitudes. Right: Magnitudes
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10 rounded to 0.1. The thick, continuous (blue) line is the mean of 250,000 realizations for
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each of various sample sizes N samples, the thin (red) lines indicate mean value ±1
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15 standard deviation (continuous) and ±2 standard deviations (dashed).
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18 Figure 2. Synthetic data histograms for 500,000 realizations for b = 1.0 and classes ∆𝑏̂ =
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0.010 wide. Graph on the left is for unrounded magnitudes, and on the right for
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23 magnitudes rounded to ∆𝑀 = 0.1 . The thick continuous (blue) lines are the
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histograms,while the dashed (red) lines are the SB distribution; The vertical solid line
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28 indicates the true b value, and the verstical dashed line indicates the observed mean value.
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31 Figure 3. Synthetic data histograms for 500,000 realizations for magnitudes rounded to
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33 ∆𝑀 = 0.1, b = 1.0, and classes ∆𝑏̂ = 0.025 (left) and ∆𝑏̂ = 0.50 (right) wide. The thick
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36 continuous (blue) lines are the histograms,while the dashed (red) lines are the SB
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38 distribution; The vertical solid line indicates the true b value, and the vertical dashed line
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44 Figure 4. Synthetic data histograms for 500,000 realizations for for magnitudes rounded
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46 to ∆𝑀 = 0.1 classes ∆𝑏̂ = 0.50 wide, and b = 0.8 (left) and b = 1.2 (right). The thick
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49 continuous (blue) lines are the histograms,while the dashed (red) lines are the SB
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51 distribution; The vertical solid line indicates the true b value, and the vertical dashed line
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4 Table Captions
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7 Table 1. Probabilities of obtaining the correct value (Pr), an underestimated value (Pr-),
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10 and an overestimated value (Pr+) for true b = 1.0 , precisions ∆𝑏̂ = 0.010, 0.025, and
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13 0.050, and different sample sizes N. Also shown are the mean estimate b̂ , and its
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15 standard deviation s.
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18 Table 2. Same as table 1 for true b = 0.8 .
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21 Table 3. Same as table 1 for true b = 1.2.
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colour figure Click here to download colour figure Fig1.eps
colour figure Click here to download colour figure Fig 2.eps
colour figure Click here to download colour figure Fig 3.eps
colour figure Click here to download colour figure Fig 4.eps
table Click here to download table Table 1.docx
b = 1.0
b̂ = 0.010 b̂ = 0.025 b̂ = 0.050
N b̂ s Pr- Pr Pr+ Pr- Pr Pr+ Pr- Pr Pr+
10 1.103 0.385 0.462 0.000 0.538 0.462 0.029 0.508 0.434 0.058 0.508
25 1.037 0.214 0.474 0.018 0.508 0.455 0.055 0.489 0.437 0.092 0.470
50 1.015 0.145 0.478 0.026 0.496 0.464 0.066 0.467 0.426 0.144 0.430
100 1.005 0.101 0.485 0.037 0.478 0.457 0.092 0.451 0.403 0.201 0.395
200 1.001 0.071 0.483 0.060 0.457 0.445 0.138 0.418 0.369 0.282 0.349
500 0.998 0.044 0.489 0.087 0.423 0.420 0.221 0.359 0.313 0.424 0.263
1,000 0.997 0.031 0.489 0.124 0.387 0.394 0.306 0.300 0.248 0.570 0.182
2,000 0.996 0.022 0.486 0.175 0.339 0.354 0.419 0.226 0.170 0.731 0.098
5,000 0.996 0.014 0.479 0.266 0.256 0.277 0.605 0.118 0.066 0.913 0.020
10,000 0.996 0.010 0.473 0.353 0.174 0.202 0.752 0.046 0.018 0.981 0.002
Table 1
table Click here to download table Table 2.docx
b = 0.8
b̂ = 0.010 b̂ = 0.025 b̂ = 0.050
N b̂ s Pr- Pr Pr+ Pr- Pr Pr+ Pr- Pr Pr+
10 0.885 0.310 0.457 0.024 0.519 0.434 0.046 0.519 0.412 0.092 0.496
25 0.831 0.172 0.459 0.029 0.511 0.445 0.058 0.497 0.416 0.117 0.467
50 0.814 0.117 0.469 0.042 0.489 0.448 0.084 0.468 0.398 0.176 0.426
100 0.806 0.081 0.471 0.052 0.477 0.435 0.125 0.440 0.372 0.247 0.381
200 0.802 0.057 0.470 0.069 0.461 0.414 0.177 0.409 0.331 0.340 0.329
500 0.799 0.036 0.463 0.112 0.425 0.380 0.273 0.348 0.250 0.518 0.148
1,000 0.799 0.025 0.451 0.157 0.391 0.335 0.378 0.286 0.174 0.678 0.148
2,000 0.798 0.018 0.433 0.220 0.346 0.276 0.515 0.209 0.093 0.838 0.068
5,000 0.798 0.011 0.395 0.338 0.267 0.174 0.726 0.101 0.019 0.972 0.009
10,000 0.798 0.008 0.357 0.456 0.187 0.093 0.873 0.035 0.002 0.998 0.000
Table 2
table Click here to download table Table 3.docx
b = 1.2
b̂ = 0.010 b̂ = 0.025 b̂ = 0.050
N b̂ s Pr- Pr Pr+ Pr- Pr Pr+ Pr- Pr Pr+
10 1.321 0.458 0.456 0.000 0.544 0.456 0.035 0.509 0.456 0.035 0.509
25 1.241 0.255 0.474 0.022 0.504 0.474 0.022 0.504 0.452 0.066 0.482
50 1.216 0.174 0.492 0.016 0.492 0.476 0.048 0.476 0.445 0.110 0.445
100 1.204 0.120 0.496 0.033 0.471 0.473 0.078 0.449 0.430 0.165 0.405
200 1.198 0.084 0.496 0.048 0.454 0.467 0.118 0.415 0.405 0.233 0.362
500 1.195 0.053 0.513 0.075 0.412 0.454 0.187 0.359 0.363 0.358 0.279
1,000 1.194 0.037 0.522 0.104 0.374 0.442 0.258 0.300 0.313 0.487 0.199
2,000 1.193 0.026 0.536 0.143 0.321 0.422 0.350 0.230 0.249 0.636 0.115
5,000 1.193 0.017 0.556 0.213 0.231 0.380 0.501 0.120 0.144 0.827 0.028
10,000 1.193 0.012 0.584 0.269 0.147 0.335 0.618 0.047 0.067 0.930 0.003
Table 3

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