Direct Sources

The most easily available solid earth material is surface rock or the rocks we get from mining areas. Gold mines in South Africa are as deep as 3 – 4 km. Going beyond this depth is not possible as it is very hot at this depth. Besides mining, scientists have taken up a number of projects to penetrate deeper depths to explore the conditions in the crustal portions. Scientists world over are working on two major projects such as “Deep Ocean Drilling Project” and “Integrated Ocean Drilling Project”. The deepest drill at Kola, in Arctic Ocean, has so far reached a depth of 12 km. This and many deep drilling projects have provided large volume of information through the analysis of materials collected at different depths. Volcanic eruption forms another source of obtaining direct information. As and when the molten material (magma) is thrown onto the surface of the earth, during volcanic eruption it becomes available for laboratory analysis. However, it is difficult to ascertain the depth of the source of such magma.


Indirect Sources

Analysis of properties of matter indirectly provides information about the interior. We know through the mining activity that temperature and pressure increase with the increasing distance from the surface towards the interior in deeper depths. Moreover, it is also known that the density of the material also increases with depth. It is possible to find the rate of change of these characteristics. Knowing the total thickness of the earth, scientists have estimated the values of temperature, pressure and the density of materials at different depths. The details of these characteristics with reference to each layer of the interior are discussed later in this chapter. Another source of information are the meteors that at times reach the earth. However, it may be noted that the material that becomes available for analysis from meteors, is not from the interior of the earth. The material and the structure observed in the meteors are similar to that of the earth. They are solid bodies developed out of materials same as, or similar to, our planet. Hence, this becomes yet another source of information about the interior of the earth.




The study of seismic waves provides a complete picture of the layered interior. An earthquake in simple words is shaking of the earth. It is a natural event. It is caused due to release of energy, which generates waves that travel in all directions

The release of energy occurs along a fault. A fault is a sharp break in the crustal rocks. Rocks along a fault tend to move in opposite directions. As the overlying rock strata press them, the friction locks them together. However, their tendency to move apart at some point of time overcomes the friction. As a result, the blocks get deformed and eventually, they slide past one another abruptly. This causes a release of energy, and the energy waves travel in all directions. The point where the energy is released is called the focus of an earthquake, alternatively, it is called the hypocentre. The energy waves travelling in different directions reach the surface. The point on the surface, nearest to the focus, is called epicentre. It is the first one to experience the waves. It is a point directly above the focus.


Earthquake Waves

All natural earthquakes take place in the lithosphere. You will learn about different layers of the earth later in this chapter. It is sufficient to note here that the lithosphere refers to the portion of depth up to 200 km from the surface of the earth. An instrument called ‘seismograph’ records the waves reaching the surface.Note that the curve shows three distinct sections each representing different types of wave patterns. Earthquake waves are basically of two types — body waves and surface waves. Body waves are generated due to the release of energy at the focus and move in all directions travelling through the body of the earth. Hence, the name body waves. The body waves interact with the surface rocks and generate new set of waves called surface waves. These waves move along the surface. The velocity of waves changes as they travel through materials with different densities. The denser the material, the higher is the velocity. Their direction also changes as they reflect or refract when coming across materials with different densities.

There are two types of body waves. They are called P and S-waves. P-waves move faster and are the first to arrive at the surface. These are also called ‘primary waves’. The P-waves are similar to sound waves. They travel through gaseous, liquid and solid materials. S-waves arrive at the surface with some time lag. These are called secondary waves. An important fact about S-waves is that they can travel only through solid materials. This characteristic of the S-waves is quite important. It has helped scientists to understand the structure of the interior of the earth. Reflection causes waves to rebound whereas refraction makes waves move in different directions. The variations in the direction of waves are inferred with the help of their record on seismograph. The surface waves are the last to report on seismograph. These waves are more destructive. They cause displacement of rocks, and hence, the collapse of structures occurs.


Propagation of Earthquake Waves

Different types of earthquake waves travel in different manners. As they move or propagate, they cause vibration in the body of the rocks through which they pass. P-waves vibrate parallel to the direction of the wave. This exerts pressure on the material in the direction of thepropagation. As a result, it creates density differences in the material leading to stretching and squeezing of the material. Other three waves vibrate perpendicular to the direction of propagation. The direction of vibrations of S-waves is perpendicular to the wave direction in the vertical plane. Hence, they create troughs and crests in the material through which they pass. Surface waves are considered to be the most damaging waves.


Emergence of Shadow Zone

Earthquake waves get recorded in seismographs located at far off locations. However, there exist some specific areas where the waves are not reported. Such a zone is called the ‘shadow zone’. The study of different events reveals that for each earthquake, there exists an altogether different shadow zone. It was observed that seismographs located at any distance within 105° from the epicentre, recorded the arrival of both P and S-waves. However, the seismographs located beyond 145° from epicentre, record the arrival of P-waves, but not that of S-waves. Thus, a zone between 105° and 145° from epicentre was identified as the shadow zone for both the types of waves. The entire zone beyond 105° does not receive S-waves. The shadow zone of S-wave is much larger than that of the P-waves. The shadow zone of P-waves appears as a band around the earth between 105° and 145° away from the epicentre. The shadow zone of S-waves is not only larger in extent but it is also a little over 40 per cent of the earth surface. You can draw the shadow zone for any earthquake provided you know the location of the epicentre. (See the activity box on page 28 to know how to locate the epicentre of a quake event).




The Crust

It is the outermost solid part of the earth. It is brittle in nature. The thickness of the crust varies under the oceanic and continental areas. Oceanic crust is thinner as compared to the continental crust. The mean thickness of oceanic crust is 5 km whereas that of the continental is around 30 km. The continental crust is thicker in the areas of major mountain systems. It is as much as 70 km thick in the Himalayan region. It is made up of heavier rocks having density of 3 g/cm3. This type of rock found in the oceanic crust is basalt. The mean density of material in oceanic crust is 2.7 g/cm3.


The Mantle

The portion of the interior beyond the crust is called the mantle. The mantle extends from Moho’s discontinuity to a depth of 2,900 km. The upper portion of the mantle is called asthenosphere. The word astheno means weak. It is considered to be extending upto 400 km. It is the main source of magma that findsits way to the surface during volcanic eruptions. It has a density higher than the crust’s (3.4 g/cm3). The crust and the uppermost part of the mantle are called lithosphere. Its thickness ranges from 10-200 km. The lower mantle extends beyond the asthenosphere. It is in solid state.


The Core

As indicated earlier, the earthquake wave velocities helped in understanding the existence of the core of the earth. The coremantle boundary is located at the depth of 2,900 km. The outer core is in liquid state while the inner core is in solid state. The density of material at the mantle core boundary is around 5 g/cm3 and at the centre of the earth at 6,300 km, the density value is around 13g/cm3. The core is made up of very heavy material mostly constituted by nickel and iron. It is sometimes referred to as the nife layer.



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