Listening to the 2011 magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki, Japan earthquake

Zhigang Peng, Chastity Aiken, Debi L. Kilb, David R. Shelly, & Bogdan D. Enescu

Published 2012, SCEC Contribution #1563

It is important for seismologists to effectively convey information about catastrophic earthquakes, such as the magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Tohoku-Oki, Japan, to general audience who may not necessarily be well-versed in the language of earthquake seismology. Given recent technological advances, previous approaches of using “snapshot” static images to represent earthquake data is now becoming obsolete, and the favored venue to explain complex wave propagation inside the solid earth and interactions among earthquakes is now visualizations that include auditory information. Here, we convert seismic data into visualizations that include sounds, the latter being a term known as ‘audification’, or continuous ‘sonification’. By combining seismic auditory and visual information, static “snapshots” of earthquake data come to life, allowing pitch and amplitude changes to be heard in sync with viewed frequency changes in the seismograms and associated spectragrams. In addition, these visual and auditory media allow the viewer to relate earthquake generated seismic signals to familiar sounds such as thunder, popcorn popping, rattlesnakes, firecrackers, etc. We present a free software package that uses simple MATLABR tools and Apple Inc’s QuickTime Pro to automatically convert seismic data into auditory movies. We focus on examples of seismic data from the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake. These examples range from near-field strong motion recordings that demonstrate the complex source process of the mainshock and early aftershocks, to far-field broadband recordings that capture remotely triggered deep tremor and shallow earthquakes. We envision audification of seismic data, which is geared toward a broad range of audiences, will be increasingly used to convey information about notable earthquakes and research frontiers in earthquake seismology (tremor, dynamic triggering, etc). Our overarching goal is that sharing our new visualization tool will foster an interest in seismology, not just for young scientists but also for people of all ages.

Peng, Z., Aiken, C., Kilb, D. L., Shelly, D. R., & Enescu, B. D. (2012). Listening to the 2011 magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki, Japan earthquake. Seismological Research Letters, 83(2), 287-293. doi: 10.1785/gssrl.83.2.287.