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Chapter 3

Chapter 3

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Published by: api-3749116 on Oct 15, 2008
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lthough earthquakes can have
catastrophic effects, they can also

reveal a great deal about the earth\u2019s internal structure. The shock waves arising from earthquakes pass through the interior of the earth in different ways and provide the evidence about the inaccessible interior regions of the earth. Several kinds of wave motions (P and S waves) produced by the earthquakes are of a class called body waves because they travel through the solid body of the earth. Body waves are distinguished from

surface waves, which move along the free
upper crust of the earth. Surface waves are of

two types; they travel more or less together, but with different motions (Fig. 3.1). One type consists of Rayleigh waves, named after the English physicist, Lord Rayleigh. They can be visualised as water waves travelling across the surface of a still pond after a pebble has been tossed into the water. The second type of surface waves is the Love wave, named after the physicist A.E.H. Love. Motion in the Love wave is entirely horizontal, at right angles to the direction of wave motion.

The waves travel at different rates from a common source. Therefore, time interval between their arrival at the recording station will also vary. Besides, the density of rocks and nature of the medium, whether solid or liquid, through which the P and S waves pass, also affect the propagation of waves. Based on these observations, the earth\u2019s interior has been divided into three layers \u2013 crust, mantle and core (Fig. 3.2).


Study of seismogram (a seismograph record) has confirmed the existence of a spherical core at the earth\u2019s centre and has added insights into its physical nature. In case the earth were entirely solid, both P and S waves would travel through in all directions. The body waves of any large earthquake could be recorded directly opposite its focus. It was, however, found that there is a region on the globe opposite the earthquake focus where S waves are not received. That means, the S waves cannot pass through the central part of the earth because this part is made of a medium

Fig.3.1 : Forms of Surface Seismic Waves
A. Rayleigh Waves; and B. Love Waves

which is not solid. Physicists have proved through experiments that S waves cannot be sent through a liquid medium. This proves that the earth\u2019s core is in liquid state in contrast to the surrounding mantle which is solid.

The seismic waves bend as they travel through the core and therefore, P waves are not directly received in a zone, known as

shadow zone, between 1030 and 1430 distant

from the focus. Also, S waves are not received there because they do not travel through the liquid core. Only surface waves are received in this shadow zone. Beyond 1430 only P waves passing through the core and surface waves travelling along the surface are received. From the extent of the shadow zone, the earth\u2019s core is calculated to have a radius of 3,470 km, a little more than half the earth\u2019s total radius.


The P waves make abrupt drop in velocity at the mantle-core boundary, whereas S wave terminates at the mantle-core boundary (Fig.3.3). Thus making a plane of dis- continuous surface between the core and the mantle known as Gutenberg discontinuity. Through the earth\u2019s mantle, upto nearly 2,900 km, the speed of earthquake waves is so high that only a very rigid and dense rock will satisfy the observed conditions. Solid or rigid in this case means either crystalline or glassy. It also means that, when subjected to the sudden twists and bends of earthquake waves, the rock behaves as an elastic solid, that is, it changes shape when shear stresses are applied, but returns exactly to its former

Fig.3.2 : Dimensions of the Earth\u2019s Mantle and Core
shape when those stresses are removed. Thus,
the mantle consists of solid rock.

Based on the behaviour of seismic waves, the mantle is sub-divided into two major parts \u2014 the upper mantle and the lower mantle. The upper mantle, extending from the crust to a depth of about 650 km, includes the asthenosphere, which occupies the upper 300 to 400 km. Rocks in the asthenosphere behave as both a plastic solid and an elastic solid. The matter possessing these remarkable properties is an elastic-viscous substance \u2014 it can be elastic and plastic at the same time, depending on whether the forces that tend to deform it are applied and released suddenly or steadily. The presence of the soft layer or plastic layer in the upper part of mantle was suspected as far back as 1926 by distinguished seismologist Beno Gutenburg. He noticed that earthquake wave velocities are slowed down below 150 km, after first increasing rapidly from the surface to that depth. This region is referred to as the low- velocity zone.


The crust is distinguished from the mantle by the presence of abrupt change in the velocity of seismic waves. This corresponds to the abrupt change in rigidity of the rock from crust to mantle. The change in rigidity in turn is due to change in mineral composition or in physical state of the rocks. The P waves near the surface travel at about 6 km per second and this velocity increases gradually or abruptly to the base of the crust, where it is 7 km per second. The surface of sudden increase in wave velocity, which separates the crust above from the mantle below, is the

Mohorovicic discontinuity, also called
Moho discontinuityo r M discontinuity. It is

named after the Yugoslav seismologist, Mohorovicic, who first recognised the discontinuity in 1909.

Fig.3.3 : The Earth\u2019s Interior

A. Increase in pressure with depth; B. Increase in
temperature with depth; C. Increase in density with
depth; and D. Velocity of P and S Waves.


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