From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Seismology (from the Greek seismos = earthquake and logos = word) is the scientific study of earthquakes and the propagation of elastic waves through the Earth. The field also includes studies of earthquake effects, such as tsunamis as well as diverse seismic sources such as volcanic, tectonic, oceanic, atmospheric, and artificial processes (such as explosions). A related field that uses geology to infer information regarding past earthquakes is paleoseismology. A recording of earth motion as a function of time is called a seismogram.

Earthquakes, and other sources, produce different types of seismic waves. These waves travel through rock, and provide an effective way to image both sources and structures deep within the Earth. There are three basic types of seismic waves in solids: P-waves (called body waves), and S-waves (surface waves). The two basic kinds of surface waves (Rayleigh and Love), can be fundamentally explained in terms of interacting P- and/or S-waves.

Pressure waves, also called Primary waves or P-waves, travel at the greatest velocity within solids and are therefore the first waves to appear on a seismogram. P-waves are fundamentally pressure disturbances that propagate through a material by alternately compressing and expanding (dialating) the medium, where particle motion is parallel to the direction of wave propagation. For a visual example of this movement, try laying a coil (like a Slinky) on a flat surface. Tap lightly on one end, and you will see the coil compress and then expand along the whole length of the coil. This is a P-wave-like phenomenon.

S-waves, also called Shear waves or secondary waves, are transverse waves that travel slower than P-waves and thus appear later than P-waves on a seismogram. Particle motion is perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation. Shear waves do not exist in fluids such as air or water.

Surface waves travel more slowly than S-waves, however, because they are trapped in the vicinity of the Earth's surface, they can be much larger in amplitude than body waves, and can form the largest signals seen in earthquake seismograms. They are particularly strongly excited when the seismic source is close to the surface of the Earth.

One of the earliest important discoveries (suggested by Richard Dixon Oldham in 1906 and definitively shown by Harold Jeffreys) in 1926) was that the outer core of the Earth is liquid. Pressure waves (P-waves) pass through the core. Transverse or shear waves (S-waves) that shake side-to-side require rigid material so they do not pass through the outer core. Thus, the liquid core causes a "shadow" on the side of the planet opposite of the earthquake where no direct S-waves are observed. The reduction in P-wave velocity of the outer core also causes a substantial delay for P waves penetrating the core from the (sesimically faster velocity) mantle.

Seismic waves produced by explosions or vibrating controlled sources are the primary method of underground exploration. Controlled source seismology has been used to map salt domes, faults, anticlines and other geologic traps in petroleum-bearing rocks, geological faults, rock types, and long-buried giant meteor craters. For example, the Chicxulub impactor, which is believed to have killed the dinosaurs, was localized to Central America by analyzing ejecta in the cretaceous boundary, and then physically proven to exist using seismic maps from oil exploration.

Using seismic tomography with earthquake waves, the interior of the Earth has been completely mapped to a resolution of several hundred kilometers. This process has enabled scientists to identify convection cells, mantle plumes and other large-scale features of the inner Earth.

Seismographs are instruments that sense and record the motion of the Earth. Networks of seismographs today continuously monitor the seismic environment of the planet, allowing for the monitoring and analysis of global earthqaukes and tsunami warnings, as well as recording a variety of seismic signals arising from nonearthquake phenomena such as large meteors entering the atmosphere, pressure variations on the ocean floor induced by ocean waves (the global microseism), cryospheric events associated with large icebergs and glaciers, or underground nuclear tests. Above-ocean meteor strikes as large as ten kilotons of TNT, (equivalent to about 4.2 × 1013 J of effective explosive force) have been reported.

One of the first attempts at the scientific study of earthquakes followed the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Other especially notable earthquakes that spurred major developments in the science of seismology include the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1964 Alaska earthquake and the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake. An extensive list of famous earthquakes can be found on the earthquake page.


[edit] Earthquake prediction

Main article: Earthquake prediction

Most seismologists do not believe that a system to provide timely warnings for individual earthquakes has yet been developed, and many believe that such a system would be unlikely to give significant warning of impending seismic events. More general forecasts, however, are routinely used to establish seismic hazard. Such forecasts estimate the probability of an earthquake of a particular size affecting a particular location within a particular time span.

Various attempts have been made by seismologists and others to create effective systems for precise earthquake predictions, including the VAN method. Such methods have yet to be generally accepted in the seismology community.

[edit] Notable seismologists

[edit] See also

[edit] References