SeismicWaves Viewer & SeismicEruption Software

Roger Groom, Mt Tabor Middle School


This activity includes both the Seismic Waves Interactive Viewer and the Seismic Eruption software to help learners better understand earthquakes, volcanoes, and the structure of the Earth.

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. By carefully examining these seismic wave fronts and their propagation, the Seismic Waves tool illustrates how earthquakes provide evidence that allows us to infer Earth's interior structure. Students investigate how seismic waves travel through Earth's internal layers and bounce and bend at internal boundaries between mantle, outer core, and inner core.

Seismic Eruption shows seismicity (earthquakes) and volcanic activity in space and time from 1960 to present. When the program is running, the user sees lights, which represent earthquakes, flashing on the screen in speeded-up time. The user can control the speed of the action. In addition, the program can show seismicity under Earth's surface in three-dimensional and cross-sectional views. Earthquakes can be selected by magnitude and volcanic eruptions can be selected by volcanic explosivity index.

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This is most appropriate for a secondary school classroom and possibly introductory college level.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Learners should be familiar with plate tectonics (including volcanism) and different types of seismic waves. Activities that will help learners with the background knowledge for this one are World Map of Plate Boundaries, Human Wave: Modeling P and S Waves, and Seismic Slinky.

How the activity is situated in the course

These exercises would probably be best midway through a unit on plate tectonics and earthquakes.
It could also be done as part of a physical science unit as an applied example of wave types and characteristics.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Learners are able to:
  • Describe how seismic P, S, and surface waves travel through different parts of the Earth.
  • Interpret a earthquake seismogram and correctly identify which parts correspond to P, S, and surface waves.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Analyze seismic data and find relationships between
    • Seismicity and volcanism
    • Main earthquakes and aftershocks
    • Locations of earthquakes and volcanoes and plate boundaries

Other skills goals for this activity

Working in groups

Description and Teaching Materials

See attached file for educator notes, NGSS alignment, links to supporting resources, student exercises, and answer keys.
Seismic Waves Viewer and SeismicEruption Software Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 563kB May17 18)

Teaching Notes and Tips

See above instructor notes.


Formative assessment of student understanding can be gathered from classroom observation and discussions with individuals or small groups.
The student exercise serves as the summative assessment for the activity. Some questions have clearly correct answers. Teachers can develop a simple grading scheme for open ended questions such as two points for thorough and correct answer, one point for partially correct, and zero for incorrect.

References and Resources