Travel Time Curves Described

How can we calculate the distance to an epicenter?

Dr. Robert Butler briefly describes how to use seismic travel-time curves. You can observe the P- and S-wave arrivals on a seismogram to calculate how far away an earthquake was from your station. A traveltime curve is a graph of arrival times, commonly P or S waves, recorded at different points as a function of distance from the seismic source. Seismic velocities within the earth can be computed from the slopes of the resulting curves.

Total Time: 1min 18s
Level: Novice

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Related Animations

A travel time curve is a graph of the time that it takes for seismic waves to travel from the epicenter of an earthquake to the hundreds of seismograph stations around the world. The arrival times of P, S, and Surface waves are shown to be predictable. This animates an IRIS poster linked to this animation.

Animation Novice

A cow and a tree in this narrated cartoon for fun and to emphasize that seismic waves traveling away from an earthquake occur everywhere, not just at seismic stations A, B, C, and D. A person would feel a large earthquake only at station A near the epicenter. Stations B, C, D, and the cow are too far from the earthquake to feel the seismic waves though sensitive equipment records their arrival.

Animation Novice

We use exaggerated motion of a building (seismic station) to show how the ground moves during an earthquake, and why it is important to measure seismic waves using 3 components: vertical, N-S, and E-W. Before showing an actual distant earthquake, we break down the three axes of movement to clarify the 3 seismograms. 

Animation Novice

Seismic waves travel through the earth to a single seismic station. Scale and movement of the seismic station are greatly exaggerated to depict the relative motion recorded by the seismogram as P, S, and surface waves arrive.

Animation Novice

A gridded sphere is used to showt: 1) the seismic stations don't need to be lined up longitudinally to create travel-time curves, as they appear in the first animation, and 2) a single station records widely separated earthquakes that plot on the travel-time curves.

Animation Novice

The Earth has 3 main layers based on chemical composition: crust, mantle, and core. Other layers are defined by physical characteristics due to pressure and temperature changes. This animation tells how the layers were discovered, what the layers are, and a bit about how the crust differs from the tectonic (lithospheric) plates, a distinction confused by many.

Animation Novice

Related Interactives

Roll over the buttons to see the difference between P- and S-wave seismic paths as well as their respective shadow zones.

Interactive Novice

Related Lessons

To understand plate tectonic processes and hazards, and to better understand where future earthquakes are likely to occur, it is important to locate earthquakes as they occur. In this activity students use three-component seismic data from recent earthquakes to locate a global earthquake.

Lesson Novice