BGR Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe



Coming soon: GIRAF 2011 Workshop

5. - 9. December 2011
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Organised by the IUGS-CGI and UNESCO
Hosting Organisation: SEAMIC


GIRAF: Geoscience InfoRmation AFrica. Logo



Seismology is the scientific study of earthquakes and the propagation of elastic waves through the Earth or through other planet-like bodies. The field also includes studies of earthquake environmental 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. A seismologist is a scientist who does research in seismology.

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755, coinciding with the general flowering of science in Europe, set in motion intensified scientific attempts to understand the behaviour and causation of earthquakes. The earliest responses include work by John Bevis (1757) and John Michell (1761). Michell determined that earthquakes originate within the Earth and were waves of movement caused by "shifting masses of rock miles below the surface".

Seismic waves are elastic waves that propagate in solid or fluid materials. They can be divided into body waves that travel through the interior of the materials; surface waves that travel along surfaces or interfaces between materials; and normal modes, a form of standing wave.

Both body and surface waves are traveling waves; however, large earthquakes can also make the entire Earth "ring" like a resonant bell. This ringing is a mixture of normal modes with discrete frequencies and periods of an hour or shorter. Motion caused by a large earthquake can be observed for up to a month after the event. The first observations of normal modes were made in the 1960s as the advent of higher fidelity instruments coincided with two of the largest earthquakes of the 20th century the 1960 Valdivia earthquake and the 1964 Alaska earthquake. Since then, the normal modes of the Earth have given us some of the strongest constraints on the deep structure of the Earth.

Seismic waves produced by explosions or vibrating controlled sources are one of the primary methods of underground exploration in geophysics (in addition to many different electromagnetic methods such as induced polarization and magnetotellurics). Controlled-source seismology has been used to map salt domes, anticlines and other geologic traps in petroleum-bearing rocks, faults, rock types, and long-buried giant meteor craters. For example, the Chicxulub Crater, which was caused by an impact that has been implicated in the extinction of the dinosaurs, was localized to Central America by analyzing ejecta in the CretaceousPaleogene boundary, and then physically proven to exist using seismic maps from oil exploration.

Because seismic waves commonly propagate efficiently as they interact with the internal structure of the Earth, they provide high-resolution noninvasive methods for studying the planet's interior. 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. Since S-waves do not pass through liquids, the liquid core causes a "shadow" on the side of the planet opposite the earthquake where no direct S-waves are observed. In addition, P-waves travel much slower through the outer core than the mantle.

Forecasting a probable timing, location, magnitude and other important features of a forthcoming seismic event is called earthquake prediction. Various attempts have been made by seismologists and others to create effective systems for precise earthquake predictions, including the VAN method. 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 useful warning of impending seismic events. However, more general forecasts routinely predict seismic hazard. Such forecasts estimate the probability of an earthquake of a particular size affecting a particular location within a particular time-span, and they are routinely used in earthquake engineering.

Engineering seismology is the study and application of seismology for engineering purposes. It generally applied to the branch of seismology that deals with the assessment of the seismic hazard of a site or region for the purposes of earthquake engineering. It is, therefore, a link between earth science and civil engineering. There are two principal components of engineering seismology. Firstly, studying earthquake history (e.g. historical and instrumental catalogs of seismicity) and tectonics to assess the earthquakes that could occur in a region and their characteristics and frequency of occurrence. Secondly, studying strong ground motions generated by earthquakes to assess the expected shaking from future earthquakes with similar characteristics. These strong ground motions could either be observations from accelerometers or seismometers or those simulated by computers using various techniques, which are then often used to develop ground motion prediction equations (or ground-motion models)


Dr. Kristine Asch
Phone: +49-(0)511-643-3324
Fax: +49-(0)511-643-3782