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Basic Seismic


The fundamental concept of seismic work is
Energy is generated at a source and transmitted
into the earth as seismic waves, these waves
bounce back from reflecting interfaces within the
earth and are detected by geophones spread out
on the surface of earth.

Seismic Wave Theory

Elastic Properties of Solids
- Stress is force per unit area. Thus when force is applied
to a body, the stress is the ratio of the force to the area
on which the force is applied.
Normal Stress (S)
- If the applied force is perpendicular to the area this is
called a normal stress.
- Consider a rectangular block of some solid object such
as rock.
- The shaded area show the block in initial state.
- Now if a force F is applied on the bottom surface to pull
down or push up the block, this force per unit area (F/A)
is called stress.

- When an elastic body is subjected to stresses, changes in
shape and dimensions occur.
- These changes are called strains.
Longitudinal Strain (EL)
- When the force F is applied upward, the length L of the
object increases by dL and when the force F is applied
downward the length L decreases by dL.
- The ratio of dL to L is called longitudinal strain.
Transverse Strain (EW)
- When the force F is applied downward, with the decrease
in length, the width W increases by dW.
- Similarly, when the force is applied upward, with the
increase of length the width W decreases by dW.
- The ratio of dW is called the transverse strain.

Poissons Ration (s)
- It is the ratio of the transverse strain (EW) to longitudinal strain
- It is the measure of the amount of transverse distortion
compared to the longitudinal distortion.
- If the volume of the block after the stress is applied were
compared to original volume, a limit on the value of s would
be found.
- Consider a tensional force. Relating transverse strain (dW/ W)
to longitudinal strain (dL/ L):
L dL s W dW / / =

L dL
W dW

- The dimension less quantity s (elastic constant) may be
interpreted as a measure of incompressibility.
- s has a prominent exploration significance.

Elastic Material
- By elastic material we mean material, which regains its
shape when the force causing deformation is removed.
- The phenomenon of elastic compression or expansion is a
displacement of the material such that the original
condition is restored when the stress is removed.
- As larger and larger stresses are applied, the elastic limit is
eventually reached, beyond which the material cannot
return to its original configuration when the stress is
- For stresses from zero up to the proportional limit (smaller
than the elastic limit) most materials obey the relationship
called Hookes Law.

Hookes Law
- In an elastic material, stress is proportional to the strain.
- When several stresses exist, each produces strains
independently of the others, hence the total strain is the
sum of the strains produced by the individual stresses.
- Hookes Law states that:
Stress is proportional to Strain

Youngs Modulus
- By definition of Hookes Law:
Stress = constant X strain
S = E X EL
- Where the proportionality constant E is called Youngs
Modulus relates stress to strain and varies according to
FA = E X dL/L
- It is interesting to note here that there is a time
dependence associated with Hookes Law and the
proportionality limit.
- A large stress applied for a short time may not exceed the
proportional limit, while a smaller stress applied for a long
time could permanently deform the material.
- This may be one of the reasons that rocks behave
elastically with the passage of seismic waves.

Shear Stress
- When the force is tangential to the area (a surface), this is
called shearing stress.
Shear Strain (Esh)
- By the application of shearing stress, an angular distortion
is produced with no associated change of volume.
- The angle of distortion is called phi and is defined as the
shear strain Esh.
Shear Modulus (u)
- In case of elastic distortion, the stress is proportional to the
Ssh = u X phi
- Where the constant of proportionality u is called the shear
modulus or the modulus of rigidity.

Volume Stress
- A sphere or cube may be compressed by a uniform
pressure (force/unit area); the excess pressure will cause
the reduction of the volume, say dv.
- Volume stress is the extra pressure per unit volume.
Volume Strain
- It is the decrease in volume per unit volume i.e., dv/v.
Bulk Modulus (K)
- It was found experimentally that volume stress is linearly
proportional to volume strain.
S : dv/v
K = S/(dv/v)
- A large bulk modulus means the material is more pliable.
So the bulk modulus is a measure of rigidity against
changes in volume.

Relations Between Elastic Constants
- The constants E, phi, M and K are known as elastic
constants and are different for different materials.
- For solids there is a direct relationship between u and the
constants E and s relating to compressional distortion.
- These are : -
u = E / 2(1 + s)
K = E [3(1 2s)]
Seismic Waves
- The seismic wave is the cornerstone in all seismic
activities. The seismic geophysicist generates records and
processes them.

The Nature of Seismic Waves
- The seismic wave is a sound wave, which is a mechanical
wave motion in an elastic medium.
- When a pebble is dropped into a pond, water waves travel
radially outwards, when a piano is played, the wires vibrate
and the sound waves spread through the room.
- These are examples of wave motion, and they have two
important points in common.
- First, energy is propagated to distant points.
- Second, the disturbance travels through the medium
without giving the medium as a whole any permanent

- Thus the ripples spread outward carrying energy with
them, but as one can see by watching the motion of a
small floating body, the water of the pond does not move
with the waves, only the disturbance.
- We can summarize:
a wave is a progressive disturbance propagated
from point to point in a medium or space without
progress or advance by the points themselves.

The Representation of Seismic Waves
- We can represent a wave by simply recording the
disturbance, particle displacement, velocity or particle

Types of Seismic Waves, their Generation and Propagation
- Among the various types of waves, the most familiar are the
sound or acoustic waves which provide the closest analogy
to the type of waves most often generated and measured in
reflection seismology.
- There are two major types of seismic waves, body waves
and surface waves.
Body Waves
- These are waves propagating inside the elastic material or
we can say that these are the waves traveling within the
medium. There are two types of body waves:
a. Longitudinal Waves (Compressional/ Primary)

- A type of seismic wave in which particle motion is in the
same direction as the wave is moving.
- These are the waves we seek to generate and record in
exploration seismology.

- They are also referred to as compressional waves
since they are associated with an oscillatory change
in volume of a given amount of material.
- Yet another name frequently applied to them is P-
wave, or primary wave.
- They are the waves, which arrive first.
- The velocity (VL) at which these longitudinal waves
travel through the material is determined by the
elastic properties of the material.
- It can be shown by the relationship:
d u K VL / 3 / 4 + =

d = density of the material
K = bulk modulus
u = shear modulus

- As the density of the material increases (with the
other properties constant), the velocity of the elastic
wave propagation decreases.
- As the rigidity (measured by the bulk modulus)
increases, the velocity increases.
- Velocity for longitudinal wave propagation also
depends on the shear modulus.
- This might not have been expected. Denser rocks
usually have higher velocities, so that in general the
rigidity must tend to increase faster than the density.

b. Transverse waves (Shear/ Secondary)

- This is a type of seismic wave in which particle
motion is at right angle to the direction in which the
wave is moving.
- One way of differentiating transverse waves from
longitudinal waves is, of course, by the direction of
oscillation of the particles in the solid.
- Another way of looking at it is that a small material
changes its volume with the passage of longitudinal
waves, but changes only its shape with the passage
of transverse waves.
- These transverse waves are also some times called
shear or rotational waves because they cause an
angular deformation at constant volume.
- They are also called secondary or S-waves because
they arrive second following the longitudinal waves.

- If the transverse oscillation is entirely in vertical plane, the
waves are called Sv, waves.
- If the oscillation is entirely in horizontal plane, they are
called SH waves.
- The velocity (VS) of a shear, wave is related to elastic
constants and bulk density of the material in which it is
propagated as:

- Longitudinal wave velocity is always greater than
transverse wave velocity.
- Transverse waves are rarely used in seismic exploration
for petroleum.
- However, a great deal of research has been carried out
with the object of putting it use and combining it with the P-
waves to infer the elastic constants and bulk density of the
transmitting media.

- Measuring the longitudinal, along with the transverse wave
velocity, we may infer the elastic constants utilizing the
following equations.

Surface waves

- If a pebble is thrown into a pond or a strong wind
blows across an open stretch of water, the surface of
the water is disturbed and waves that travel away
from the source are setup.
- The amplitude of the wave is greatest at the surface;
at the depth of a wavelength the displacement at any
point is only a fraction of what is at the surface.
- Such waves called surface waves, can occur in a
solid in that case they are controlled by elasticity.
- Whereas the surface waves in water in the above
example are controlled by gravity.
- There are two types of surface waves in solids:
Rayliegh waves and Love waves.

Rayliegh waves

- The surface waves of most interest in seismic work
are called Rayliegh waves and occur as ground roll
along the air-rock interface.
- These waves travel along only the free surface of an
elastic solid.
- The practical motion is in a vertical plane and is
elliptical and retrograde with respect to the direction
of propagation.
- The amplitude of the motion velocity of Rayleigh
waves is slower than for body waves in the same
- It is about nine tenths of that of the S-wave.
- The Rayleigh waves can be identified by low-velocity,
low frequency. They often obscure reflections on
seismic records.

Love waves

- These waves are observed only when there is a low
velocity layer overlying a medium in which elastic
waves have a higher speed.
- The wave motion is horizontal and is perpendicular to
the direction of propagation.
- It has been demonstrated that these waves
propagate by multiple reflection between the top and
bottom surfaces of the low velocity layer.
- Love waves propagate with a velocity equal to the
velocity of shear waves in the upper layer in the lower
medium for a very long wavelengths.
- Love waves, being transverse waves, are seldom
recorded in reflection seismic prospecting for which
the detectors are designed to respond to only the
vertical ground motion.

Huygens Principle

- The basic idea is that at any instant in time, a wave
front can be considered to present a series of point
sources of which each emits a spherical wave.
- At some later instant in time, the new location of the
actual wave front is where these overlapping
spherical waves interfere constructively.
- The inner solid lines represent snapshots of a wave
- After a unit of time passes, a new snapshot is the
outer solid line.
- Note that a fair degree of resolutions or description of
the irregularly shaped initial wave front is lost on later
wave fronts.

Plane Waves, Ray Path and Wavefront

- At large distances from the source, the spherical
wavefronts are so large that they can be treated as a
plane and are sometimes called plane waves.
- It is often convenient to illustrate a wave by drawing
the line perpendicular to the wave front.
- This line is called a ray or wave path.
- Huygens wavelets travel equal distance in a given
time from all points on a wavefront, so wavefronts
shown at equal time intervals are concentric spheres
and the ray are straight lines.
- Such displays of wavefronts on a graph of horizontal
distance versus depth are called wavefront charts.

Law of Reflection

- States that the angle of incidence (between the ray
and the perpendicular to the reflecting surface) is
equal to the angle of reflection (between the ray and
the perpendicular to the reflecting surface).

Snells Law
States that a wave traversing a boundary between two
media of velocity v1 and v2 is refracted in such a way

When Sin i = v1/v2, Sin r becomes 1 and r becomes 90
This means that the refracted wave path does not
penetrate the medium but travels along the interface.
The angle i
whose Sin is v1/v2 is called the critical
angle of incidence.
For all values of i greater than the critical angle, there
is no refraction into the second layer and the wave is
totally reflected.

Head Waves
- Waves entering and leaving the high-speed layer at the
critical angle are sometimes called headwaves.
Diffraction of Waves
- Diffraction will occur in the vicinity of any irregularity in an
elastic interface, especially at a discontinuity.
- In geology, such irregularities are common.
- Diffractions associated with geologic faults are often of
practical importance in seismic prospecting.
- At distances from the diffracting surface, which are, large
compared to the seismic wavelength, one can use
Huygens method to analyze diffraction phenomena.
- It is interesting to note that a reflection can be thought of
as the interference result of diffractions from the various
points lying all along the reflector.

- The incident energy could be a reflected or refracted
seismic wave coming from any direction.
- However, when the interface terminates, there is an
absence of sources and therefore an absence of interfering
wavelets on of side of the termination.
- The resulting wavefronts then appear as if the termination
were a point source.
- The amplitude of a diffraction falls off rapidly with distance
from the source.

Reflection Coefficient (R)
- For the specific case of normal incidence (ray path
perpendicular to interface) there is a simple equation
relating the incident amplitude Ai to the reflected amplitude
- The ratio Ar / Ai is called the reflection coefficient, R.
- The equations which relate these quantities are quite
- If the seismic velocity is v, the rock density is rho( ), the
product, *v, defines the acoustic impedance of the rock.
- The particle velocity is the time rate of change of the
displacement, and the acoustic pressure is equal to the
product of acoustic impedance and particle velocity.
- If R is defined by:
) 1 1 ( ) 2 2 (
) 1 1 ( ) 2 2 (
v d v d
v d v d


- Then the reflection coefficient for displacement and particle
velocity is equal to R while that for acoustic pressure is
- The parameter R ranges between 1 to +1.
- A positive value means that the wave travels from a
material of lower impedance into a material of higher

Transmission Coefficient ( T )
- The ratio of transmitted energy in a P-wave (Et) to incident
energy (Ei) is:
1 1 2 2
1 1 2


d v d v
d v

- The square root of this ratio is termed as transmission
coefficient (T).
- The transmission coefficient also expresses the relative
amplitude of the transmitted to the incident waves.
1 1 2 2
1 1 2
d v d v
d v

= =

- For displacement or particle velocity, it is equal to 1-R,
while for pressure it is equal to 1+R.

- The transmission coefficient for displacement and particles
velocity is different from that for pressure because of the
difference in sign of their reflected waves.
- Both forms of the transmission coefficient can have values
from zero to two.
- For any value greater than one the transmitted amplitude is
larger than the incident amplitude.

Mode Conversion
- When a wave is incident obliquely, angular stresses occur
at the interface.
- There must be some reaction of the rock to these forces.
- The reaction is the generation of shear waves at the
interface where only compressional waves were incident
an effect known as mode conversion.
- Both reflected and refracted shear waves are generated,
and they carry away part of the energy.
- The variation also depends strongly on the values of the
elastic constants of the rocks.
- It can be seen that the reflector coefficient for
compressional waves decreases slowly as the angle of
incidence increases until near the critical angle, where all
the energy which was refracted at smaller angles suddenly
is available for reflection.

- Notice that the ocean bottom and the base of the
weathering can reflect huge amounts of energy by
comparison, which can cause serious problems in seismic
exploration efforts.