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Simulation of 3-D Seismic Wave Propagation in a Synthetic Earth

The imaging of the Earth‘s interior three-dimensional structure is a prerequisite for the understanding of the mechanisms that drive the continental plates, shape our landscapes, and lead to earthquakes and volcanoes. Similar to medical tomography, we use waves that are generated for example after earthquakes travel through the entire Earth, and are recorded on worldwide seismometer networks. To reconstruct the interior structure, large-scale simulations of seismic wave propagation is necessary. For these simulations, the biggest supercomputers are being used. The resulting tomographic images are compared with physical models of the fluid flow in the Earth‘s interior (mantle convection), for which also substantial computational resources are required. One of the main goals is to understand the build-up of stresses that lead to the numerous earthquakes.

Simulation of a seismic wave field during an earthquake in north Italy. © M. MeschedeSimulation of a seismic wave field during an earthquake in north Italy. Inside of the Earth’s crust, the sides of a tetrahedral grid are indicated that were used to solve the physical equations.
Source: © M. Meschede

Full article in inSiDE, Vol. 11 No. 1

Prof. Dr. Heiner Igel
Department für Geo- und Umweltwissenschaften, Geophysik - Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Theresienstr. 41, 80333 München - e-mail: