September/October 2006

Educational Software, DLESE, and the Future

A popular computer program for general seismology is Seismic/Eruption, which displays global seismicity (and volcanic activity) over time. Simple to use and easily configurable, it is useful for all levels, from elementary school to graduate seminars. Even rambunctious second graders become mesmerized by the accumulating circles and are quick to recognize the patterns along the plate boundaries. Seismic/Eruption was written by Alan Jones and is available at Jones has developed related programs as well: Seismic-waves, which depicts the progression of seismic waves through the earth; Amaseis, which is widely used by amateur and school seismology programs to collect and display seismic data; and an Eqlocate program. All of the programs are elegant and simple to install on a Windows PC.

Seismic/ Eruption is one example of many educational seismological resources available on the Internet. In fact, finding the perfect resource for a particular lesson becomes painful when confronted with the vast numbers of animations, applets, Web pages, and programs that exist, often ephemerally, in cyberspace. One starting point is DLESE, the Digital Library for Earth System Education (, which is a reviewed collection of online educational resources. DLESE differs from a simple Internet search in that each resource is reviewed, classified, and described. A search of the word “seismology” yielded 48 resources, ranging from “a brief history of seismology” to “make your own seismogram.” Possible search categories include grade level and resource type, so a middle school teacher looking for a lab activity can rapidly refine these 48 possibilities to a manageable number. Reviews range from simple annotations to comprehensive compilations of comments. The listing for “virtual earthquake,” an interactive exercise that demonstrates earthquake location and magnitude estimation (, is accompanied by 49 user comments, an editor’s summary, and a quantitative assessment. DLESE also encourages members of the community to suggest contributions, which are added to a list for review by DLESE collection builders. In this way, a level of quality assurance is provided.

But images, text, and animations are so yesterday. The next step is grid computation that allows shared use of software and databases over the Internet. Currently, grid computing is primarily intended for research efforts, but it is equally well-suited for educational use. The primary advantage is that it reduces or eliminates much of the effort required for sophisticated computations such as waveform modeling. Currently, construction of a synthetic seismogram requires a fair amount of work, knowledge, and computational resources. This limits the number of users. But if the process were made simpler, then far more people could benefit. The basic idea (as I see it) is to do for seismic computation what Google Earth did for remote sensing.

An example is the GEON SYNSEIS tool, at It is still in development (with limited access, I think, but a polite e-mail to the developers might help), but I liked it because I managed to find and display seismic data and then create a finite-difference synthetic seismogram with just a few clicks of the mouse. No tedious downloading, installing, or wrestling with formats. An exceptionally useful feature allows users to make movies of propagating seismic waves, which can be useful in undergraduate-level seismology classes. Another distributed effort is the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) OpenSHA software, which allows users to calculate expected intensities for a specified southern California earthquake. For example, OpenSHA will estimate the expected shaking intensity that an M 9.3 earthquake would create next to your house. Both SYNSEIS and OpenSHA are works in progress, but they provide hints of what might be possible in the future.

Seismologists in countries with extremely limited research budgets are an important constituency for online computation. Many of these seismologists live in areas with significant seismic hazard and, although they typically possess a good knowledge of the local geology and velocity structure, they lack the resources to calculate realistic seismograms and ground motions. Combining local knowledge with Web-accessible software could lead to a new generation of accurate ground-motion maps across the globe.

Finally, in the education realm, quick online seismogram calculation is clearly useful for undergraduate and graduate classes but could reach other levels as well. Quite a few schools in the United States and around the world possess seismometers, as well as a small but talented group of amateur seismologists. They use various programs such as USESN in the United States (U.S. Educational Seismology Network,, Eduseis in Europe (, and Quake Trackers in New Zealand ( Once an earthquake is recorded, the next step is to learn about it. Perhaps this type of application may be a trendsetter for the next generation of educational software.

Rob Mellors
San Diego State University
rmellors [at]




Posted: 31 August 2006