Exploring three-component seismic data with accelerometers


In this activity, students will use an accelerometer (iPhone, laptop or USB) to kinesthetically explore the physical "meaning" of three component seismic data by replicating a seismogram by moving the accelerometer.


All Audiences


70 Minutes


  1. Describe the information contained in a three-component seismogram
  2. Identify the first S and P waves on a three-component seismogram.
  3. Describe how first S and P wave arrivals provide evidence for the curved path seismic waves take when they travel through the Earth

Supporting Resources

For the lesson

Earthquake video clip (YouTube) – 1995 Kobe 7.2M

Download a three-component seismogram from a recent event via the Rapid Earthquake Viewer or use these sample seismograms



Internal accelerometers

  • Mac laptops only - SeisMac software
  • PC, Mac and Linux laptops - QCNLive software
  • iPhone & iTouch - iSeismometer (this is a robust and free app but others with various functionalities are available through iTunes)

External accelerometer

  • USB accelerometers (for Macs, PCs and Lunix) can be purchased from the Quake Catchers Network (request a sensor on right hand menu)
  • USB drivers and display software for PC, Mac and Linux laptops - QCNLive software


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