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What is Seismology?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 21, 2024
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Seismology is the study of seismic waves, which may also be called shock waves. A seismic wave is energy that moves through the Earth as a result of an earthquake. Seismology is a branch of geophysics. This branch of science can be useful in providing information about earthquakes, the Earth’s structure, and activities that occur in Earth’s inner layers.

The scientists who study in the field of seismology are called seismologists. They are normally concerned with learning about earthquakes and their impact on Earth. By studying current seismic activity and past seismic activity, many hope they will be able to predict and maybe even control future earthquakes.

Some seismic waves can be felt by the people on Earth’s surface and some cannot. Those that can be felt often cause damage and sometimes death. Seismologists use special instruments in their work called seismographs. These machines record seismic waves. They are usually capable of detecting and amplifying the slightest movements of the ground.

Studying seismology generally involves two types of shock waves. There are push waves, also known as P waves, which result when an inner Earth structure moves forward. Then, there are torsion waves, often called S waves, which result when particles are twisted between sliding inner structures. Accessing characteristics such as the time and speed of these waves can allow seismologists to gain valuable information such as the distance or severity of an earthquake.

Seismology is credited with revealing many important things that people currently know about the Earth. There are areas, for example, that are considered earthquake centers, which is where earthquakes are believed to occur. It is believed all of these have been accurately identified and mapped.

Strong theories such as the one about plate tectonics have been developed. The plate tectonics theory states that the Earth’s crust is made up of numerous large and small plates. It is believed that earthquakes occur where these plates move past one another.

Seismology is also credited for giving people an accurate base of knowledge about the inner layers of the Earth. Each of Earth’s layers, for example, has been identified and named. Their distances from the surface have also been recorded.

The knowledge that has been attained through seismology and the instruments used are important for more than gathering information. On several occasions, scientists have been able to predict a forthcoming earthquake. Now, many seismologists re-create earthquakes in hopes that one day their knowledge and tools will provide solutions that can control these natural occurrences.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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