EduQuakes Logo
July/August 2000


Good problem sets for seismology students--now that is something we can all appreciate and use! As I browse the Web looking for educational materials, I am impressed with the number of sites that offer earthquake information, basic descriptions of earthquakes and plate tectonics, and even complete lectures. Most of this material is suitable for the K-12 level or college survey courses. At the other extreme, many researchers now post Web pages that contain research programs, projects, results, resources, and published papers--there is no shortage of information for the professional seismologist. But at the level between introductory and advanced, there is a shortage of seismological educational resources. When we teach college-level seismology to undergraduates and first-year graduate students, we need problem sets that let students work with seismograms to construct and use travel-time curves, group velocity curves, instrument responses, wave attenuation, hypocentral locations, focal mechanisms, magnitudes, etc. Most seismology professors have discovered that it is relatively easy to lecture about wave propagation, Earth structure, and earthquakes, but it is difficult to design, construct, and debug good problem sets.

Textbooks are the traditional sources of problem sets and exercises. When I scan through my bookshelf of seismology books, I see that the seismological community has produced good books that span the spectrum from the descriptive to the advanced levels. In addition, some of these books offer questions, problems, and exercises that cover the "theoretical" end of seismology. However, none of these books could possibly offer extensive self-contained "lablike" exercises that include the necessary raw materials such as seismograms, seismicity files, or data tables. Even a basic student exercise of picking P-wave arrival times and plotting a travel-time curve could require at least ten full-size pages of seismograms; textbooks cannot waste this much space. This style of book is usually called a "Laboratory Manual"--and that is what we need in seismology!

I am not the first person to notice this lack of a laboratory manual for seismology. Indeed, I have had many conversations on this topic with several colleagues over the years with the inevitable concluding statement that " somebody should do something." The best idea is to pool the contributions of many different seismologists into a central bank where we can all subsequently download the exercises we need. This community effort requires some volunteers. While there have been plans to start this effort, there is still no central collection of online problem sets. Now is the time to begin building this online "EduQuakes Seismology Laboratory Manual" so that it can be used in the 2000-2001 academic year.

I shall serve as the initial coordinator for this effort, and the SSA/EduQuakes Web page will be the central link for the Lab Manual. SSA members and SRL readers can mail their problem sets and exercises to me and I will: go through the exercise; make some suggestions where appropriate; convert the text and graphics into Web format if necessary; and finally add it to the Laboratory Manual with a short blurb on level and content. While fancy interactive java modules are appreciated, the more basic usage will be to print out the exercise and give it to the students. Since there is significant effort involved in constructing a problem set, each exercise will retain the original authorship--thus contributors will have an online publication. The main SSA/EduQuakes Web page will contain appropriate phrases such that our collective effort is available to all individuals for educational benefit, but not for commercial exploitation. Look for the link to the "EduQuakes Seismology Lab Manual" through the SSA and the MichSeis Web pages [now at]. By the time you read this column, I plan to have at least three exercises already posted--the first one will be a surface wave magnitude exercise that I have used for a few years. I know that many individuals have invested their time and creative efforts into development of problems sets; now is your chance to share with others and thus reap greater benefit from your work. So please mail them to me today!

SRL encourages guest columnists to contribute to "EduQuakes." Please contact Larry Ruff with your ideas. His e-mail address is

Posted: 3 August 2000
Updated: 5 September 2000