You are on page 1of 5


Exxon Production Research Co.
Houston, Texas
G eophysicists often ascribe the cause of poor data quality
to geophone ground coupling. To accurately record ground
motions for a seismic survey, the geophones must be
coupled firmly to the ground. Certainly, the geophone
hanging in a bush or loosely placed in a crack will not
accurately record ground motions. Even though the well-
planted geophone can follow ground motions at lower
frequencies, it may fail at higher frequencies. Generally,
coupling is not a problem for conventional recording in
favorable terrain, but it is a crucial factor in high resolu-
tion and shear wave recordings.
Having measured ground coupling for vertical and
horizontal geophones in both the laboratory and the
field, I have determined how coupling depends upon
soil conditions, plus geophone placement, spike length,
radius, and mass. In this paper, I discuss how coupling
is measured, how coupling affects the amplitude and
phase of the seismic signal, and how to plant the geo-
phones for the best results.
In this investigation of geophone ground coupling,
laboratory measurements were made with a large shake
table, which was vibrated at different frequencies and at
different amplitudes. A box was bolted onto the table,
soil was placed in the box, and a geophone planted in
the soil. An accelerometer monitored table motion and
a feedback circuit kept table velocity constant as frequency
was changed. Both the voltage amplitude and phase of a
geophone were measured as a function of frequency with
a gain/phase meter. Alternatively, the amplitudes for two
separate geophones could be measured simultaneously.
U se of the shake table had the advantage of carefully
controlling the vibration of the geophones. It was espe-
cially useful for measuring the effect of vibrational ampli-
tude and for comparing the response for two geophones
under the same conditions. It had the disadvantage of
having soil confined to a box. I found that the table re-
sponse for sand in a box was fairly flat except for a small
perturbation around 270 Hz. In addition, the measured
geophone response had extra high-frequency resonances
which were not seen in the field, but were seen with other
techniques when used with the box. I think that both of
these effects could be caused by the coupling of the soil
to the box.
Two field techniques were used to measure coupling.
In the first technique, two geophones were fastened
together. One geophone was driven with an oscillating
voltage, and the motion was detected with the second
geophone. This method yielded a clean geophone response
with little noise; however, the dual geophone was heavier
and more cumbersome than the original. The second tech-
nique was easier to perform; the geophone was given a
small tap either by dropping a steel ball on it from a fixed
height or by using a very small hammer. The impulse
response (voltage as a function of time) was measured
with a spectrum analyzer and the geophone response
was obtained from the Fourier transform (frequency
spectrum) of the impulse.
Typical data obtained in this investigation are shown
in Figures 1 and 2. Figure 1 is the measured geophone
response for a vertical geophone. The response is de-
fined to be the output voltage of the geophone, expressed
as a function of frequency, for constant velocity motion
of the ground. At low frequencies, the phase is linear
and the amplitude is flat with a response determined by
the sensitivity of the geophone. At about 50 Hz, the am-
plitude starts to increase gradually up to a peak of about
1.4 times the low-frequency value. The peak in the am-
plitude at 222 Hz corresponds to a change in the phase.
The response for a horizontal geophone is plotted in
Figure 2.
T he geophone response shown in Figures 1 and 2 is
characteristic of damped harmonic oscillation. The in-
ternal mechanism of the geophone, Itself, is also a har-
monic oscillator. Thus, a model of the planted geophone
can be constructed based on a system of two damped
springs as shown in Figure 3A. One spring represents the
real spring within the geophone; the other spring represents
the elastic coupling of the geophone to the ground. The
response of each spring is defined by a resonant frequency
and a damping coefficient. I have shown (GEOPHYSICS,
June 1984) that this simple spring model is adequate to
describe geophone ground coupling.
The calculated amplitude and phase of the geophone
response based on the dual spring model is shown in Fig-
ure 3 for two choices of damping. As can be seen in this
example, the geophone resonance dominates the response
for frequencies less than 50 Hz, and the coupling reso-
nance determines the response for frequencies above 50 Hz.
Figure 1. Geophone response showing coupling of vertical
geophone measured at Friendswood, Texas with the dual
geophone field technique.
Figure 2. Geophone response showing coupling of hori-
zontal geophone measured in sand with a shake table.
0 dBV = I Vrms.
The basic effect of coupling on seismic data can be
described using Figure 3. If the damping is low, the ampli-
tude peak is high and narrow as in the solid curve. In
this case, the coupling will act as a low-pass filter and at-
tenuate the response beyond the resonant frequency.
Furthermore, the amplitude near the resonant frequency
will be enhanced, causing the pulse to ring with this fre-
quency. If the damping is high, the amplitude peak is low
and broad as in the dashed curve. In this case, the ampli-
1 I I I I I I
0 50 100 150 200 250 300 350 4
frequency - Hz
0 50 loo 150 200 250 Jo0 350 400
Figure 3. Calculated geophone amplitude (A) and phase (B)
for a geophone with an internal resonant frequency of
8 Hz and a coupling resonant frequency of 200 Hz. The
solid curves have a damping of 70 percent of critical for the
internal resonance and a damping of 10 percent for the
coupling resonance. The dashed curves have a damping of
30 percent of critical for the internal resonance and a
damping of 50 percent for the coupling resonance.
tude is not drastically affected, but there would be phase
distortion over a broad band of frequencies, which could
influence measurements of traveltimes. As long as the
survey is done with frequencies much less than the reso-
nant frequency (less than 50 Hz for a 200-Hz resonant
frequency) in the regime where the amplitude is flat and
the phase is linear, the data will not be influenced by
T he geophone response in Figure 3 was calculated as-
suming a UIO-Hz coupling resonant frequency. The actual
effect of coupling on the seismic data will depend on the
response for the geophones at the location of the survey.
In the field, 1 have measured coupling resonant frequen-
cies for vertical geophones ranging from 100 to 500 Hz
with damping ranging from 20 to 60 percent of critical.
(Critical damping is that damping at which a harmonic
system will not oscillate but returns smoothly to its rest-
Figure 4. Response of a vertical geophone in firm and
loose sand measured with the shake table.
ing position after a disturbance.) Horizontal geophones
have a coupling resonance which is similar to vertical
geophones except that it is lower in frequency and has a
smaller value of damping. Typical values for horizontal
geophones are 170 Hz and 20 percent of critical.
Actually, the coupling phenomenon is not as simple as
described above in that it is nonlinear; the resonant fre-
quency and damping depend upon the vibrational ampli-
tudes of the ground. Using a shake table with a drive
amplitude of 0.01 cm/set, I measured a coupling reso-
nance frequency of 310 Hz for a vertical geophone in
sand. As the drive amplitude was increased, the reso-
nant frequency decreased. At 0.25 cm/set, a resonant
frequency of 230 Hz was measured. Similar results were
obtained for horizontal geophones. At drive amplitudes
below 0.01 cm/set, little nonlinearity was observed. Non-
linearity was also seen in the field; the resonant frequency
increased as the force used to tap a geophone was de-
creased until a level was reached where there were no
further changes in resonant frequency.
Most seismic signals occur in the regime where the
coupling is linear. However, some first breaks can have
velocities of 0.1 cm/set, and even larger velocities are
found near the source. Nonlinear coupling could distort
the waveforms and attenuate the high frequencies for
geophones near the source.
G. iven the fact that the seismic frequencies should be
much less than the coupling resonant frequency, it is im-
portant to know what factors determine the coupling
behavior. I found that the coupling of vertical geophones
depends strongly on the firmness of the soil. Data for
a vertical geophone planted in sand which was poured
loosely in a box on a shake table and data for the geo-
phone planted in sand which was thoroughly compacted
by vigorous shaking are shown in Figure 4. In the field,
I have observed the resonant frequency shift from 340 Hz
to 120 Hz, and the damping shift from 60 percent to 44
percent of critical by moving the geophone from a firm
lawn to a plowed garden nearby. In general, higher cou-
pling resonant frequencies were associated with higher
Figure 5. Response of a horizontal geophone for different
positions measured in sand with a shake table.
damping and broader, lower peaks.
The coupling of vertical geophones was not sensitive
to any parameter except the firmness of the soil. For ex-
ample, in the laboratory with uniform sand or clay, I
found that the resonant frequency was the same for geo-
phones with different spike lengths, different diameter
flat bases, different masses, or internal geophone fre-
quencies. Geophones from different manufacturers had
the same coupling response. The resonant frequency for
a buried geophone was the same as one normally planted,
but the damping was increased by burying.
In the field, the firmness of the soil increases with
depth, and I found that the resonant frequency of the
geophone increased with burial or with a longer spike.
For example, a vertical geophone with a one-inch spike
had a resonant frequency of 387 Hz and a damping of
51 percent of critical. At the same location, the reso-
nant frequency and damping changed to 440 Hz and 60
percent of critical with a three-inch spike and to 650 Hz
and 66 percent of critical with a five-inch spike.
T he coupling of horizontal geophones is strongly depen-
dent on the placement as shown in Figure 5. In this ex-
b -20 -
E 11
.40 -
-00 -
I d!I I I I I I
-5 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
Figure 6. Tap test on a vertical geophone. (A) time Figure 7. Tap test on a horizontal geophone. (A) time
response. (B) Frequency spectrum. response. (B) Frequency spectrum.
ample, the buried geophone had a resonance around 260
Hz and a damping of 19 percent of critical, but a geo-
phone with its base firmly resting on the soil had a
resonance of 170 Hz and a damping of eight percent of
critical. If the geophone was lifted only a few milli-
meters so that the base was no longer touching the soil,
there was a drastic lowering of the resonance to 90 Hz.
If it was raised one centimeter off the soil, the peak
shifted to 30 Hz, and at higher positions the geophone
did not respond to soil motion at all.
The measurements for horizontal geophones showed
that the coupling does not depend on the manufacturer,
the internal geophone frequency, the firmness of the
soil, or the length of the spike. In the lab with sand, the
resonance frequency was the same with a spike and with
a flat base; however, in the field, the flat bases were in-
ferior to spikes with resonances of 30 to 40 Hz.
I have shown (GEOPHYSICS, June 1984) that the hori-
zontal geophone coupling resonance is caused by the
tendency of the geophone to rock instead of moving
horizontally with the ground. Such rocking was elimi-
nated by using a dual spike lined up parallel to the direc-
tion of motion. This dual spike eliminated the decrease
in resonant frequency as the geophone was raised off
0 100 200 303 400
the ground; however, if the base of the geophone rested
firmly on the ground, the response was the same as that
for a geophone with a single spike.
T* his result shows that it is crucial that horizontal geo-
phones be planted with their bases firmly touching the
ground. Planting the geophones correctly and leveling
the geophone is easier with a shorter spike. My measure-
ments indicate one-inch spikes should be used on
horizontal geophones since they are as effective in coup-
ling the geophones to the ground as longer spikes.
The existence of coupling problems can be determined
in the field from a tap test such as conventionally per-
formed to check for polarity. Figures 6 and 7 show the
impulse response to a tap test for a vertical and hori-
zontal geophone. Both the coupling resonance frequency
and the damping can be determined from the impulse.
Because the geophone voltage is a measure of the velocity
response to a step acceleration of the geophone, the oscil-
lations in the voltage are at the coupling resonance fre-
quency. Thus, the resonant frequency is the frequency at
which the voltage crosses zero and at which there is a
peak in the Fourier transform of the data. The damping
can be determined from the impulse by measuring the
distance A, from peak to trough and the distance A2
from the next trough to peak, as in Figure 5. Then,
damping = In (AI/A,) / [n + In (A,/A2)*]. The
geophone response, itself, is equal to the time integral of
the Fourier transform of the tap test.
I . n domg the tap test, care must be taken that the tap is
not too hard so that the coupling is in the linear regime.
A procedure which can be used to check for nonlinearity
is to hit the geophone repeatedly with decreasing force;
the coupling resonance should increase until it reaches a
limiting value, the coupling resonant frequency.
Because the seismic amplitude and phase is undistorted
by coupling only at frequencies much less than the cou-
pling resonant frequency, it is important that the fre-
quencies used in the survey be much lower than the
coupling frequency. Measuring the coupling with a tap
test in the field will indicate if there is a problem. To in-
crease the coupling frequency for vertical geophones,
longer spikes can be used, or the geophone can be buried.
It is imperative that the horizontal geophones be planted
with their bases firmly resting on the soil. My conclu-
sion is that one-inch spikes should be used with horizon-
tal geophones because they are as effective as longer
ones and easier to plant correctly. To increase the coup-
ling frequency for horizontal geophones, the geophones
can be buried. IE
(An extensive technical presentation of this material, with
supporting mathematics, appeared in the June 1984 issue of
Christine E. Krohn received a B.S. degree in physicsfrom Emory
University in 1973 and a Ph.D. degree in physics from the Uni-
versity of Taas at Austin in 1978. She was a Welch post-doctoral
research fellow at the University of Texas during 1978-79 and
did research in the area of amorphous and liquid materials.
Since 1979, she has been employed by Exxon Production Re-
search Co. in their Long Range Research Division. Upon join-
ing Exxon, she initially worked in the seismic field research
group studying geophone ground coupling. Currently she is
working in the area of rock physics.