Plane Seismic Waves

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This Demonstration shows the propagation of elastic waves, commonly known as seismic waves. Two types of seismic waves are shown here: pressure waves (P-waves) and shear waves (S-waves). The P-wave is longitudinal, and so oscillates along the direction of the wave propagation, while the S-wave shakes perpendicular to the travel direction.


By combining these two types, you can simulate other types, such as Rayleigh waves. In such cases, the particles move in a circle or ellipse. The movement can be observed in detail by increasing the length of the trail.


Contributed by: Yu-Sung Chang (March 2011)
Open content licensed under CC BY-NC-SA



In the event of a real earthquake, the P-wave always precedes the S-wave, because the speed of P-waves is


while the speed of an S-wave is


where is the bulk modulus, μ is the shear modulus, and ρ is the density.

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