Unit 3: Codorus Creek case study: Measuring and interpreting seismic refraction data

Using seismic refraction data in a case study for urban renewal. Andy Parsekian, University of Wyoming, aparseki@uwyo.edu

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Initial Publication Date: February 3, 2022 | Reviewed: August 4, 2022


This unit presents an applied Case Study example and the associated concepts related to designing a seismic survey and analyzing the data. Parts of the instrument are discussed and practical experience simulating travel time arrivals on a travel time-offset plot are presented. A real dataset from the Case Study site at Codorus Creek, York, PA is presented and analysis strategies are discussed.

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Learning Goals

Unit 3 Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to...

  • describe the parts and setup of a seismic instrument
  • calculate a travel time - offset plot with seismic wave travel times for a single refraction interface
  • analyze a field dataset from the Case Study site
  • conceptualize the subsurface environment by interpreting the results of the real field dataset

Unit 3 Teaching Objectives

  • Affective: Motivate students interest in seismic measurements with a real Case Study example from an engineering geophysics project in the urban setting of York, PA related to the Codorus Creek beautification project
  • Cognitive: Empower students to use basic physical equations to create simulated data and analyze real data

Context for Use

This unit is designed to be the capstone exercise for the IGUaNA module on measuring depth to bedrock using seismic refraction. It builds on unit 1, introduction to seismic refraction and unit 2, how seismic waves travel through the ground. However, it could be used as a stand-alone unit in an intermediate class focused on geophysics, i.e., where students have obtained some of the background through other course work.

Description and Teaching Materials

Part 1: Field Data Acquisition and Instrument Setup

This part introduces the Codorus Creek Case Study, the parts of the instrument, and considerations for designing a survey to address the questions asked in the Case Study. This part finishes with a link to the exercise where students make simulated travel time-offset plots to design a survey to be used for the Case Study.

Materials provided:

Part 2: Data Analysis and Interpretation

This part walks through the measurements that were acquired, what to look for in the data, and how to extract travel time-offset plots from the data. This part also goes through the interpretation and evaluation of results to produce an answer to the primary questions posed in the Case Study. This is the key material associated with the Field Data Analysis exercise.

Materials provided:

[optional] Part 2a: Collecting and analyzing your own data

This part will guide you through the steps of collecting your own dataset, particularly using instrumentation resources available at the IRIS PASSCAL Instrument Center. Guidelines are provided for defining a research question, doing background research and interpreting your results. A review of acquisition and analysis is provided with links to the primary materials on these topics covered elsewhere in the IGUaNA teaching materials.

Materials provided:

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • Displaying the seismogram datasets for students The first arrivals on the seismograms may be digitized by viewing the seismogram data on the computer screen, estimating the x (distance) and y (time) coordinate pairs, and entering those directly in Excel, however an alternative is to print out these images on 8.5"x11" paper and allow the students to use rulers to make their picks and then transfer the numbers to Excel for further analysis.
  • In class discussion The multiple choice questions listed under "Assessment" could be used as "clicker questions" in larger classes to foster discussion.
  • Excel Exercise In this unit, the Excel-based exercise for part 1 (designing the seismic refraction survey) does not come with a worked example since it does not include new calculation - only manipulation of the provided sheet. If the students are struggling, consider providing the Excel key "solution" worksheet in whole or in part, or talk through this as a demonstration to the class. The exercise for part 2 (data analysis and interpretation) relies on successful completion of the Unit 2 exercise on 2-layer seismic refraction. Therefore, if students are struggling with the Codorus Creek case study, worked example from Unit 2: How Seismic Waves Travel may be provided as an analog.
  • Different student ability levels Depending on the ability level of various students or the population served by the course, the data analysis activity can be set up as a "Jigsaw." One third of the class can be assigned to each of the data sets. Each of those groups can be required to confirm their interpretations (with the rest of their group, or with the instructor, or both) before proceeding to the next step: groups of 3, consisting of students who have analyzed each of the three different data sets, compile their analyses to interpret the entire data set and draw conclusions.
  • Defining a research question Part 2a takes students through the steps of designing and making measurements to collect their own dataset. Depending on the past level exposure of students to earth science concepts, an alternative approach to the section on "Defining a Research Question" would be for the instructor to define the question for the students before data collection. Then, this section on Defining a Research Question could be completed at the end of the unit as a way for the students to think about next steps or follow-on research after already having going through the predefined 'model' research question.


  • Assessment questions, acquiring and interpreting seismic refraction data (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 83kB Oct21 21) These multiple choice and short-answer questions can be given to students as homework, on quizzes, or on exams.
  • The Excel-based exercise and field data analysis report (see Teaching Materials section, above) may be completed for a grade, using this Rubric for Codorus Creek case study report (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 74kB Oct21 21).
    • Alternative: small groups of students can make oral presentations to the class showing their results and interpretation related to the Codorus Creek case study (or data collected by the students themselves locally) following the field data exercise as a guide. (Options: youtube videos, very short in-class presentations, etc.)
    • Alternative: one-one oral exams with the instructor.

Solutions for instructors

References and Resources