Exploring the Earth’s subsurface with virtual seismic sources and receivers
Nicolson, Heather Johan
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Traditional methods of imaging the Earth’s subsurface using seismic waves require an identifiable, impulsive source of seismic energy, for example an earthquake or explosive source. Naturally occurring, ambient seismic waves form an ever-present source of energy that is conventionally regarded as unusable since it is not impulsive. As such it is generally removed from seismic data and subsequent analysis. A new method known as seismic interferometry can be used to extract useful information about the Earth’s subsurface from the ambient noise wavefield. Consequently, seismic interferometry is an important new tool for exploring areas which are otherwise seismically quiet, such as the British Isles in which there are relatively few strong earthquakes. One of the possible applications of seismic interferometry is the ambient noise tomography method (ANT). ANT is a way of using interferometry to image subsurface seismic velocity variations using seismic (surface) waves extracted from the background ambient vibrations of the Earth. To date, ANT has been used to successfully image the Earth’s crust and upper-mantle on regional and continental scales in many locations and has the power to resolve major geological features such as sedimentary basins and igneous and metamorphic cores. In this thesis I provide a review of seismic interferometry and ANT and apply these methods to image the subsurface of north-west Scotland and the British Isles. I show that the seismic interferometry method works well within the British Isles and illustrate the usefulness of the method in seismically quiet areas by presenting the first surface wave group velocity maps of the Scottish Highlands and across the British Isles using only ambient seismic noise. In the Scottish Highlands, these maps show low velocity anomalies in sedimentary basins such as the Moray Firth and high velocity anomalies in igneous and metamorphic centres such as the Lewisian complex. They also suggest that the Moho shallows from south to north across Scotland, which agrees with previous geophysical studies in the region. Rayleigh wave velocity maps from ambient seismic noise across the British Isles for the upper and mid-crust show low velocities in sedimentary basins such as the Midland Valley, the Irish Sea and the Wessex Basin. High velocity anomalies occur predominantly in areas of igneous and metamorphic rock such as the Scottish Highlands, the Southern Uplands, North-West Wales and Cornwall. In the lower crust/upper mantle, the Rayleigh wave maps show higher velocities in the west and lower velocities in the east, suggesting that the Moho shallows generally from east to west across Britain. The extent of the region of higher velocity correlates well with the locations of British earthquakes, agreeing with previous studies that suggest British seismicity might be influenced by a mantle upwelling beneath the west of the British Isles. Until the work described in Chapter 6 of this thesis was undertaken in 2009, seismic interferometry was concerned with cross-correlating recordings at two receivers due to a surrounding boundary of sources, then stacking the cross-correlations to construct the inter-receiver Green’s function. A key element of seismic wave propagation is that of source-receiver reciprocity i.e. the same wavefield will be recorded if its source and receiver locations and component orientations are reversed. By taking the reciprocal of its usual form, in this thesis I show that the impulsive-source form of interferometry can also be used in the opposite sense: to turn any energy source into a virtual sensor. This new method is demonstrated by turning earthquakes in Alaska and south-west USA into virtual seismometers located beneath the Earth’s surface.