Earth Material and Structure
The Physical Environment: An Introduction to Physical Geography
The Earth's Interior
The deep interior of the Earth remains somewhat of a mystery as we have only penetrated thevery most outer portion with our deep drilling exploration. What knowledge we do havecomes from seismic wave data or lava that has extruded onto the surface. What we do knowis that the Earth's interior is somewhat like a concentric series of rings, progressing from thedense and intensely hot inner core toward the brittle outer shell of the crust.
Seismograph recording seismicactivity.
Courtesy USGS Hawaii Volcano
bservatory)Seismic activity gives us clues as to the internal structure of the Earth. Geoscientists obtainseismic data from naturally occurring earthquakes or human-induced explosions. Seismicenergy produces two kinds of waves that are useful in studying the Earth'sinterior.
Compressional (P) waves
generate a back-and-forth motion parallel to the directionof travel.
Shear (S) waves
move up-and-down perpendicular to the direction of wavetransmission. Seismometers detect these motions and record them on a
.When seismic waves pass through rock, their amplitude and direction changes. For instance,wave velocity generally increases as rock density increases. Shear waves do not penetratemolten masses and when they encounter a boundary between two rock types of differingdensities, a portion of the wave travels along the boundary while another part returns to thesurface. Such changes in seismic wave velocities led Yugoslavian geophysicist AndrijaMohorovicic (1857-1936) to discover the boundary between the crust and underlying mantle.Wave velocity increases through the "
" discontinuity. It is believed that thediscontinuity represents a zone where sima-type minerals undergo a phase change that produces a new and denser combination of minerals.
Examine P and S waves movingthrough Earth's interior." (Courtesy NSF/TERC/McDougall Littell)