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Chapter 7
Effects Of Near-Surface Lateral
Variations On Refraction Amplitudes
7.1 - Summary
Increases in refracted amplitudes not related to changes in the head coefficient
are usually associated with increases in traveltimes in the near-surface layers,
while decreases in amplitudes are associated with decreases in traveltimes.
These correlations demonstrate that the amplitude variations are related to
variations in the near surface geology, rather than to variations in the coupling of
the detectors with the ground.
The change in amplitude can be described with the transmission coefficient of
the Zoeppritz equations. Correction factors can be applied for those surface
conditions which are sufficiently extensive to permit the measurement of the
wavespeed. Where this is not possible, then the lowest amplitude or amplitude
product is representative of the head coefficient for the main refractor.
7.2 - Introduction
The generation of a refraction time section through the convolution of forward
and reverse seismic traces (Palmer, 2001a), provides a powerful and convenient
approach to resolving some of the ambiguities in the inversion of shallow seismic
refraction data (Palmer, 2001b). 2D and 3D case histories demonstrate that the
approach is efficacious with refractors exhibiting large variations in depths and
wavespeeds. The head coefficient is approximately the ratio of the specific
acoustic impedance in the upper layer to that in the refractor, while amplitudes in
the convolution section are the square of that ratio.
However, there can be geological situations where the refraction amplitudes are
not predicted by the head coefficient or its approximations. These situations
include lateral variations in the near surface layers and/or variations in the
coupling of the geophones with the ground.
The coupling of geophones, especially with the standard single geophone per
trace of most shallow seismic refraction operations, is a ubiquitous concern with
quantitative analysis of refraction amplitudes. Pieuchot (1984) reviewed earlier
work (Bycroft, 1956; Fail et al, 1962; Lamer, 1970), in which the effects of the
weight and diameter of geophones on coupling were considered. He concluded
that the size of modern geophones was adequate to produce satisfactory
coupling, and that the common geophone spike lengths of 50 mm to 100 mm
further guaranteed satisfactory coupling. Field trials (E J Polak, 1969) in which
the amplitudes of bunched geophones were measured, demonstrate that
variations in amplitudes related to planting are minor.
These conclusions are supported by a seismic refraction profile across a narrow
massive sulfide orebody at Mt Bulga in southeastern Australia. Originally, this
profile was recorded to observe whether there are any variations in refraction
amplitudes related to an unambiguous increase in density associated with the
mineralization. However, it is a complex case history which combines lateral
changes in the wavespeeds in both the refractor and the weathered layer above,
as well the density changes associated with the mineralization. Furthermore, the
results provide a valuable insight into the relative importance of the effects of
near surface lateral variations and geophone coupling with the ground on the
measurement of seismic amplitudes with single detectors. In particular, there is
a consistent correlation between amplitude variations of the refracted signal and
minor traveltime variations in the near surface layers. These results indicate that
near-surface geology rather than geophone coupling is the dominant cause of
seismic amplitude statics.
7.3 - Traveltime Results
The Mt Bulga massive sulfide orebody is narrow with a width generally less than
about 10 m. Nine shots, each consisting of small explosive charges in shallow
hand augered shot holes, and nominally 30 m apart, were recorded with a 48
trace seismic system using single geophones which were 2.5 m apart.
The centre of the seismic line at station 49 was located on the crest of a small
ridge, which also marked the location of the sulfide orebody. The rocks on either
side of the mineralization are Ordovician meta-sediments. Between stations 25
and 49, these sediments crop out, and there was some difficulty in auguring the
shot holes to a satisfactory depth and in planting the geophones. Between
stations 49 and 73, there is no outcrop, and the production of the shot holes was
much easier, as was the planting of the geophones.
The traveltime graphs are shown in Figure 7.1. They show that a two layer
model of the wavespeeds is generally satisfactory, and that there is a significant
lateral change in the wavespeeds of the first layer. Between stations 25 and 48
where the Ordovician meta-sediments sediments crop out, the wavespeed of the
first layer is 1500 m/s. Between stations 48 and 53 there is no outcrop, due
partly to the mining of the enriched supergene zone over a century ago and to
recent restoration of the site for a pine tree plantation. Here, the wavespeed of
the first layer is 900 m/s. On the other side of the orebody, between stations 53
and 72, the wavespeed of the first layer is 1000 m/s.
Figure 7.1: Traveltime data for a line crossing a narrow massive sulfide orebody
at Mt Bulga. The shot point interval is nominally 30 m.
Between stations 26 and 28, the traveltimes increase in both the forward and
reverse directions. This increase is inferred to be the result of an increase in the
thickness of surface layer of soil, because there is no lateral offset between the
increases in the forward and reverse traveltime graphs. A wavespeed of
approximately 500 m/s can be obtained from the graph with the shot point at
station 25.
Between stations 69 and 71, the traveltimes decrease in both the forward and
reverse directions. As with the previous case, there is no lateral offset, and so
this decrease is inferred to be the result of a reduction in the thickness of the
surface layer of soil.
Figure 7.2: Time-depths computed from traveltime data with shot points at
stations 1 and 97. The shading highlights a distinctive pattern of time-depth
anomalies which are centred on station 56 and which have their origin in the very
near-surface soil layer.
By contrast, the increases in the traveltimes in the forward and reverse directions
on either side of station 49 are offset by about two detector intervals, indicating
that the corresponding increases in depth occur in the main refractor. This
corresponds with an optimum XY value of 5 m, which is obtained from both the
wavespeed analysis function in Figure 7.3 and the offset in amplitudes in Figure
The time-depths computed with the traveltimes for the shots at stations 1 and 97
and using a reciprocal time of 120 ms, and XY values from 0 to 10 m in
increments of 2.5 m which is the trace spacing, are presented in Figure 7.2. The
increase in the time-depths over the orebody is readily apparent.
The wavespeed analysis function is shown in Figure 7.3, using the traveltimes for
the shots at stations 1 and 97, and XY values from 0 to 15 m in increments of 2.5
m, the trace spacing. The optimum XY value has been taken as 5m, although it
may be a little less, possibly about 4m, because the graphs for the XY values of
2.5 m and 5 m are symmetrical about their average. The wavespeed in the
refractor is 5000 m/s between stations 25 and 48, 3430 m/s between stations 48
and 62, 2400 m/s between stations 62 and 68, and possibly about 5000 m/s
between stations 68 and 72. The region with the wavespeed of 2400 m/s is
along strike from the shear zone detected in another study (Palmer, 2001a;
chapter 3), and it is probably a continuation of that feature.
The depth section computed with these wavespeeds is shown in Figure 7.4. The
depths have been plotted vertically below the surface reference point and require
an additional operation (Palmer, 1986), which is equivalent to reflection migration
or imaging. The increase in the depth of weathering in the vicinity of station 50 is
probably caused by the more rapid breakdown of the sulfides or the removal of
ore and rock during mining.
Figure 7.3: The generalized wavespeed analysis function for a range of XY
values from zero to 15 m in increments of 2.5 m, which is the station separation.
The values for a 5 m XY value show the least variation related to the increased
depth of weathering over the orebody, and at least four zones with different
wavespeeds can be recognized.
Figure 7.4: Depth section computed with the time-depths shown in Figure 7.2.
The vertical to horizontal exaggeration is approximately 4:1.
7.4 - Effects of Near-surface Lateral Variations on Amplitudes
The two shot records with shot points at stations 1 and 97, are shown in Figures
7.5 and 7.6. They both show the large decrease in amplitude with increasing
shot-to-detector distance. In addition, there is a very obvious reduction in
amplitudes on the few traces centered on station 50, which is the location of the
massive sulfide orebody.
Figure 7.5: Field record for shot point at station 1, presented at constant gain.
The large drop in amplitudes at stations 51 and 52 occurs near the location of the
massive sulfide orebody.
Figure 7.6: Field record for shot point at station 97, presented at constant gain.
The large drop in amplitudes at stations 49 and 50 occurs near the location of the
massive sulfide orebody.
Figure 7.7: Amplitudes of the first cycles of the field records with shot points at
stations 1 and 97.
The amplitudes of the first cycles are shown in Figure 7.7, and show the usual
decrease with distance from the shot point, together with the sudden decrease at
around station 50. The amplitudes are somewhat erratic for the forward shot
between stations 26 and 49, which is the region of outcrop and where some
difficulties were experienced in planting the geophones. In addition, there is
good correlation between similar features on the reverse shot point, such as at
stations 32 and 43.
Figure 7.8: Uncorrected amplitude products of the first cycles of the field
records with shot points at stations 1 and97.
The product of the shot amplitudes, shown in Figure 7.8 with an XY separation of
zero, exhibits the same erratic nature as the shot amplitudes between stations 26
and 49. The amplitude products at stations 32 and 43 for example, are higher
than those at the adjacent stations.
A similar correlation is possible at station 56, where there is an increase in
amplitudes on both forward and reverse shots, and a corresponding increase in
the amplitude product. Furthermore, there is an increase in traveltime at this
station, and in turn, an increase in time-depths computed with a zero XY value as
shown in Figure 7.2. An examination of Figure 7.1, shows that the increase in
the traveltime occurs at the same geophone location for both the forward and
reverse shots, that is, there is no lateral displacement. Therefore, the increase in
depth occurs in the surface soil layer, rather than in the main refractor. The near-
surface origin is also supported by the characteristic pattern produced the time-
depths with in Figure 7.2 (Palmer, 1986, p107-111).
These results indicate that the occurrence of the soil surface layer produces
increases in seismic amplitudes. This is clearly indicated at station 56, as well as
at stations 32, 35, 41 and 43. In the latter cases, the time-depth anomalies are
not as large, but nevertheless, they are consistent with the hypothesis.
The hypothesis is further supported by the large increase in the surface soil layer
at stations 26 and 27 which corresponds with an increase in amplitudes, as well
as the decrease in the surface layer at stations 70 and 71, which correlates with
a decrease in amplitudes.
The variations in amplitudes with varying surface layers can be explained with
the transmission coefficients of the Zoeppritz equations, viz.:
Trans Coeff = 2 v

/ (v

+ v

) (7.1)
is the wavespeed in the upper or surface layer,

is the density in the upper or surface layer,
is the wavespeed in the lower layer, and

is the density in the lower layer.
This form of the equation is a little different from the standard, because the signal
is travelling upwards from the refractor.
In general, v
< v
. Therefore, the transmission
coefficient in equation 7.1 will vary from one, that is, there is no surface soil layer,
to two, that is, the surface soil layer wavespeed and density are much less than
those of the layer below. In those cases where there is a surface soil layer, there
will be an increase in amplitudes, because the transmission coefficient will
usually be greater than one.
The wavespeeds and densities in the upper soil layer can vary over quite large
ranges. Furthermore, it can be difficult to accurately map any rapid lateral
variations with for example, seismic methods. Therefore, it may not always be
possible to conveniently derive correction factors based on the Zoeppritz
In such situations where there is significant variation in the surface soil layer, it is
suggested that the minimum values, rather than the average values, be taken as
representative of that region. For example, the amplitude product for the region
between stations 30 and 48 will be taken as about 1.3, rather than the average of
about 2 or the maximum of about 2.5.
However, a wavespeed of approximately 500 m/s can be recovered for the
surface soil layer between stations 26 and 28. If the densities are ignored, then
the transmission coefficient computed with equation 7.1, is 1.5. Since the
amplitudes are multiplied in Figure 7.8, the transmission coefficient must be
squared, prior to application. The squared correction factor of 2.25 satisfactorily
accounts for the increase in amplitude, as shown in Table 1.
7.5 - Relationships Between Amplitudes and Refractor
The normalized amplitude products are shown in Figure 7.9 for XY values from
zero to 10 m. The values shown include the addition of a constant, namely, 1 for
an XY value of 2.5 m, 2 for an XY value of 5 m, and so on, in order to separate
the graphs.
The anomalous amplitude product at station 56 is readily seen on the graph for
the zero XY value. As the XY value is systematically increased, the forward and
reverse amplitude anomalies are separated, with the result that the anomalous
product separates into two, which correspond with the forward and reverse shot
amplitude values. The forward amplitude systematically moves to the right, while
the reverse value moves to the left. The pattern is similar to that produced by
traveltime anomalies which originate in the near-surface (Palmer, 1986, p107-
111), as shown in Figure 7.2 for station 56.
This pattern with the amplitude products which can be seen clearly at station 56,
can also be recognized with some difficulty between stations 27 and 48.
Figure 7.7 shows that the very low amplitudes associated with the massive
sulfides, occur at stations 51 and 52 on the forward shot and 49 and 50 on the
reverse shot. The amplitude products in Figure 7.9, show that this interval is a
minimum for an XY value of 5 m, and that it occurs at stations 50 and 51. For
other XY values, this zone is wider.
The accompanying table summarizes the amplitude products and the correlation
with wavespeeds. In general, the agreement is good.
Figure 7.9: Uncorrected products of the amplitudes of the first cycles of the field
records with shot points at stations 1 and 97 for a range of XY values from zero
to 10 m.
The normalized squared ratios of the wavespeeds in the final row have been
corrected for the additional near-surface layer of soil between stations 26 and 29,
and for an inferred density factor of 2.8 for the mineralized region in the centre
between stations 50 and 51. If a density of 2.4 tonnes/m
is assumed for the
meta-sediments, then the resulting density for the mineralization is 6.6
. This density is a little high, but it is possible to reduce it using a
higher wavespeed in the mineralization. This is reasonable because the
measured wavespeeds may not be especially accurate over such a narrow
Station 26 29 29 50 50 51 51 62 62 68 68 -72
2.9 1.3 0.13 1.0 2.2 1.5
(m/s) 1500 1500 900 1000 1000 ? 1600
(m/s) 5000 5000 3430 3430 2400 ? 5000
/ V
0.09 0.09 0.07 0.07 0.17 ? 0.10
/ V
1.3 1.3 1 1 2.4 ? 1.5
/ V
1.3 0.13
1 2.4 ? 1.5
Table 1: Summary of amplitude products and wavesppeds.
7.6 - Discussion and Conclusions
This case history provides another good example of the correlation between
head wave amplitude products and the ratios of the wavespeeds. It is complex
with many large variations in depths as well as wavespeeds in both the refractor
and the layer above. Furthermore, it qualitatively confirms the importance of
densities on head wave amplitudes.
The case history also provides a valuable insight into the importance of near-
surface variations and geophone coupling on the measured refraction
Between stations 50 and 72 where there is no outcrop, the amplitudes and the
amplitude products are essentially a function of the wavespeeds in the refractor
and the layer above. However, at station 56, there is an increase in amplitudes
which correlates with an increase in traveltimes and time-depths. These results
indicate that the amplitude variation is related to the near-surface layering, rather
than to the coupling of the geophones with the ground.
The results for the region between stations 26 and 50, where there was
extensive outcrop, support this interpretation, because all of the amplitude
anomalies can be associated with traveltime anomalies.
The presentation of both amplitude products and time-depths for a range of XY
values from zero to more than the optimum value, provides a convenient and
effective method for recognizing near-surface anomalous zones of limited lateral
The increases in amplitudes are compatible with the transmission coefficients of
the Zoeppritz equations. As the seismic signal approaches the surface from the
refractor, there is an increase in seismic amplitude where there is another layer
with lower wavespeed and or density.
In general, this change in amplitude can be ignored when there are several
continuous layers above the refractor, because the same increase in amplitudes
occurs at each detector. In these situations, the amplitudes are adequately
described with the head coefficients, together with a geometric spreading factor.
Where there are lateral changes in the surface layers, such as the irregular
development of a surface soil layer, there can be large variations in amplitudes
by a factor of between 1 and 2. If these layers have sufficient lateral extent so
that they can be mapped, such as the region between stations 26 and 28, then
an approximate correction factor can be computed with the transmission
coefficients of the Zoeppritz equations.
However, this is not always possible. Under these circumstances, the minimum
amplitudes are probably the most representative.
7.7 - References
Bycroft, G. N., 1956, Forced vibrations of a rigid plate on a semi-infinite elastic
space: Roy. Soc. London, 248, 327-368.
Fail, J. P., Grau, G., and Lavergne, M., 1962, Couplage des sismographes avec
le sol: Geophys. Prosp., 10, 128-147.
Lamer, A., 1970, Couplage sol-geophone: Geophys. Prosp., 18, 300-319.
Palmer, D., 1980, The generalized reciprocal method of seismic refraction
interpretation: Society of Exploration Geophysicists.
Palmer, D., 1986, Refraction seismics - the lateral resolution of structure and
seismic: Geophysical Press.
Palmer, D., 2001a, Imaging refractors with the convolution section: Geophysics
66, 1582-1589.
Palmer, D., 2001b, Resolving refractor ambiguities with amplitudes: Geophysics
66, 1590-1593.
Pieuchot, M., 1984, Seismic instrumentation: Geophysical Press.
Polak, E. J., 1969, Attenuation of seismic energy and its relation to the properties
of rocks: Ph D thesis, University of Melbourne, p4.7-4.9.