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Lake waves penetrate, disturb the surrounding earth, according to seismic study

"We've recently found that the waves on lakes actually generate these microseisms too," researcher Keith Koper said.

By
Brooks Hays
The vibrations generated by waves rumbling across the surface of a lake can penetrate the earth and be measured by local seismometers. Photo by Pixabay/CC
The vibrations generated by waves rumbling across the surface of a lake can penetrate the earth and be measured by local seismometers. Photo by Pixabay/CC

Oct. 16 (UPI) -- According to new seismic research, the waves rolling across the top of lake cause the surrounding earth to rumble. Imperceptible at the shoreline surface, the earth-penetrating ripples are just strong enough to be picked up by seismometers.

"It's kind of a new phenomenon," Keith Koper, director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, said in a news release. "We don't really know how it's created."

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Researchers believe the newly discovered phenomenon will allow them to study the geology surrounding lakes, as well as analyze when and how lakes freeze and thaw.

Ocean waves create similar seismic background noise in coastal regions. The waves, called microseisms, are produced by the interactions and collisions between ocean waves and the ocean floor.

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"We've recently found that the waves on lakes actually generate these microseisms too," Koper said.

Scientists have previously recorded microseisms near the Great Lakes, as well as Utah's Great Salt Lake. In a new study on the phenomenon -- published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research Solid Earth -- researchers detailed these recordings as well as microseism observations made near Yellowstone Lake and three lakes in China.

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By averaging the patterns of microseisms of a long period of time, scientists can generate a kind of background seismic signature for a region surrounding a lake.

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Because seismic waves change as they travel through different types of materials, they can offer a kind of CT scan of the geology surrounding a lake. Some of the microseisms may even reach far enough to help scientists study fault lines near lake regions -- like the Wasatch Fault, which runs beneath Salt Lake City.

Seismic waves also cease as lakes freeze, and resume when they thaw, so seismometers could help satellites track the timing of a lake's freezing and thawing.

Researchers plan to install a variety of new seismometers and other devices in Yellowstone Lake next summer in order to better understand the phenomenon.

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"If we can record at the same time on land and underwater, we can get a better idea of how these things are generated," Koper said.

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