Seismograms: Illustrated Guide to Reading a Seismogram (USGS)

Ever wondered how to read the data on a seismogram? 

This playful animation created for the general public by the USGS describes what a seismogram is, how they are recorded and what to look for in the seismic traces recorded on a seismometer.

Seismometers measure vibrations. More vibration = more wiggle. Some seismometers measure only up and down. Sometimes, they shake too much and data are off-scale. Some seismometers record in all three dimensions. Many webicorders display 15 minutes per line, alternating colors as time passes. Plots are automatically updated every few minutes.

 This animation was used with permission from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and can also be downloaded from their site.


Keypoints:

Seismometers record anything that can make the ground vibrate:

  • Earthquakes,
  • Explosions,
  • Helicopters,
  • Ocean waves,
  • Traffic and trains
  • People and animals
  • Wind.

Total Time: 4min 26s
Level: Novice

88MB

Optional Files 1
Share it

Related Animations

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

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

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

This companion to the animation "Four-Station Seismograph network"  shows the arrival of seismic waves through select wave paths through the Earth (P and S waves) and over the surface of the Earth. The movement at distant stations occurs at a microscopic scale. While that doesn't result in noticeable movements of the buildings, the arrivals are recorded on sensitive seismometers.

Animation Novice

Seismograms of common events are compiled to show the different seismic signals recorded by ground-shaking events. Seismograms can record everything from nearby earthquakes to earthquakes on the other side of the world, plus anything that shakes the ground near the seismograph station like people walking, elk running, rocks falling and helicopters landing.

Animation Novice

Related Videos

Related Software-Web-Apps

The IRIS Earthquake Browser (IEB) is an interactive map for exploring millions of seismic event epicenters (normally earthquakes) on a map of the world. Selections of up to 5000 events can also be viewed in 3D and freely rotated with the 3D Viewer companion tool.

Software-Web-App Novice

Seismic Waves is a browser-based tool to visualize the propagation of seismic waves from historic earthquakes through Earth’s interior and around its surface. Easy-to-use controls speed-up, slow-down, or reverse the wave propagation. By carefully examining these seismic wave fronts and their propagation, the Seismic Waves tool illustrates how earthquakes can provide evidence that allows us to infer Earth’s interior structure.

Software-Web-App Novice

jAmaSeis is a free, java-based program that allows users to obtain and display seismic data in real-time from either a local instrument or from remote stations.

Software-Web-App Intermediate