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High frequency wave propagation in the earth: theory and observation


Hill, David Paul (1971) High frequency wave propagation in the earth: theory and observation. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/KCTK-HH34.


The wave-theoretical analysis of acoustic and elastic waves refracted by a spherical boundary across which both velocity and density increase abruptly and thence either increase or decrease continuously with depth is formulated in terms of the general problem of waves generated at a steady point source and scattered by a radially heterogeneous spherical body. A displacement potential representation is used for the elastic problem that results in high frequency decoupling of P-SV motion in a spherically symmetric, radially heterogeneous medium. Through the application of an earth-flattening transformation on the radial solution and the Watson transform on the sum over eigenfunctions, the solution to the spherical problem for high frequencies is expressed as a Weyl integral for the corresponding half-space problem in which the effect of boundary curvature maps into an effective positive velocity gradient. The results of both analytical and numerical evaluation of this integral can be summarized as follows for body waves in the crust and upper mantle:

1) In the special case of a critical velocity gradient (a gradient equal and opposite to the effective curvature gradient), the critically refracted wave reduces to the classical head wave for flat, homogeneous layers.

2) For gradients more negative than critical, the amplitude of the critically refracted wave decays more rapidly with distance than the classical head wave.

3) For positive, null, and gradients less negative than critical, the amplitude of the critically refracted wave decays less rapidly with distance than the classical head wave, and at sufficiently large distances, the refracted wave can be adequately described in terms of ray-theoretical diving waves. At intermediate distances from the critical point, the spectral amplitude of the refracted wave is scalloped due to multiple diving wave interference.

These theoretical results applied to published amplitude data for P-waves refracted by the major crustal and upper mantle horizons (the Pg, P*, and Pn travel-time branches) suggest that the 'granitic' upper crust, the 'basaltic' lower crust, and the mantle lid all have negative or near-critical velocity gradients in the tectonically active western United States. On the other hand, the corresponding horizons in the stable eastern United States appear to have null or slightly positive velocity gradients. The distribution of negative and positive velocity gradients correlates closely with high heat flow in tectonic regions and normal heat flow in stable regions. The velocity gradients inferred from the amplitude data are generally consistent with those inferred from ultrasonic measurements of the effects of temperature and pressure on crustal and mantle rocks and probable geothermal gradients. A notable exception is the strong positive velocity gradient in the mantle lid beneath the eastern United States (2 x 10-3 sec-1), which appears to require a compositional gradient to counter the effect of even a small geothermal gradient.

New seismic-refraction data were recorded along a 800 km profile extending due south from the Canadian border across the Columbia Plateau into eastern Oregon. The source for the seismic waves was a series of 20 high-energy chemical explosions detonated by the Canadian government in Greenbush Lake, British Columbia. The first arrivals recorded along this profile are on the Pn travel-time branch. In northern Washington and central Oregon their travel time is described by T = Δ/8.0 + 7.7 sec, but in the Columbia Plateau the Pn arrivals are as much as 0.9 sec early with respect to this line. An interpretation of these Pn arrivals together with later crustal arrivals suggest that the crust under the Columbia Plateau is thinner by about 10 km and has a higher average P-wave velocity than the 35-km-thick, 62-km/sec crust under the granitic-metamorphic terrain of northern Washington. A tentative interpretation of later arrivals recorded beyond 500 km from the shots suggests that a thin 8.4-km/sec horizon may be present in the upper mantle beneath the Columbia Plateau and that this horizon may form the lid to a pronounced low-velocity zone extending to a depth of about 140 km.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Geophysics
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Archambeau, Charles B.
Thesis Committee:
  • Unknown, Unknown
Defense Date:18 May 1971
Funding AgencyGrant Number
U. S. Geological SurveyUNSPECIFIED
Advanced Research Projects AgencyUNSPECIFIED
Air Force Office of Scientific ResearchF44620-69-C-0067
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:03042016-150636227
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9605
Deposited By: Bianca Rios
Deposited On:08 Mar 2016 15:55
Last Modified:09 Nov 2022 19:20

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