On seismic resolution of lateral heterogeneity in the Earth's outermost core

Edward J. Garnero, Donald V. Helmberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Issues concerning resolution of seismically determined outermost core properties are presented with an example from three earthquakes in the Fiji-Tonga region. Travel time behavior of the commonly used family of SmKS waves, which travel as S in the mantle, P in the core, reflecting m - 1 times at the underside of the core-mantle boundary (CMB), are analyzed over a large distance range (125-165°). Data having wavepaths through an area of known D″ heterogeneity (±2%) exhibit systematic anomalies in SmKS differential times. Two-dimensional wave propagation experiments demonstrate how large-scale lower-mantle velocity perturbations can explain long-wavelength behavior of such anomalous SmKS times, though heterogeneity on smaller scales may be responsible for the observed scatter about these trends. If lower-mantle heterogeneity is not properly accounted for in deriving a core model, misfit of the mantle model maps directly into core structure. The existence of outermost core heterogeneity is difficult to resolve at present, owing to uncertainties in global lower-mantle structure. Resolving a one-dimensional chemically stratified outermost core also remains difficult, owing to the same uncertainties. Inclusion of the slowly accruing broadband data should help in this regard. Restricting study to higher multiples of SmKS (m = 2, 3, 4) can help reduce the effect of mantle heterogeneity, because of the closeness of the mantle legs of the wavepaths. SmKS waves are ideal in providing additional information on the details of lower-mantle heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-130
Number of pages14
JournalPhysics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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