x lines of Python: Global seismic data

Today we'll look at finding and analysing global seismology data with Python and the wonderful seismology package ObsPy, from Moritz Beyreuther, Lion Krischer, and others originally at the Geophysical Observatory in Munich.

We've used ObsPy before to load SEG-Y files into Python, but that's not its core purpose. These tools are typically used by global seismologists and earthquake scientists, but we're going to download and analyse data from three non-earthquakes:

  1. A curious landslide and tsunami in Greenland.
  2. The recent nuclear bomb test in North Korea.
  3. Hurricane Irma's passage through the Caribbean.

We'll also look at an actual earthquake. This morning there was a very large earthquake off Mexico, killing at least 15 people. It's the first M8+ earthquake anywhere since the Illapel event, Chile, on 16 September 2015.

Only 4 lines?

Once you have ObsPy, only 4 lines of code (not counting imports) are needed to download and plot a seismic trace. Here's how to instantiate the ObsPy client using the IRIS data service, then get 5 minutes of waveform data from the Mudanjiang or MDJ station on the IC network, the New China Digital Seismograph Network, and finally plot it:

from obspy.clients.fdsn import Client
client = Client("IRIS")

from obspy import UTCDateTime
t = UTCDateTime("2017-09-03_03:30:00")
st = client.get_waveforms("IC", "MDJ", "00", "BHZ", t, t + 5*60)
st.plot()  
ObsPy_IC-MDJ.png

Pretty awesome, right? One day getting seismic and well data will be this simple! LOL


Check out the Jupyter Notebook! I cannot get this notebook to run on Azure Notebooks I'm afraid, so the only way to run it is to set up Python and Jupyter (best way: install Canopy or Anaconda) on your machine. I urge you to give it a go, because what could be more fun than playing around with decades of seismic data from all over the world?

What's that funny noise?

Seismic reflections are strange noises. Around 50 Hz, narrow band, very quiet, and difficult to interpret. It is possible to convert seismic traces (active or passive) into audible sound with a shift in pitch and a time stretch.

Made by the legendary Emory Cook, who recorded everything from steel bands to racing cars to ionospheric noises to this treatment of Hugo Benioff's earthquake recordings. Epic.

Curiously the audification thing has never really caught on in exploration geophysics — a bit surprising, given the fascination with spectral decomposition over the last 15 years or so. And especially so when you consider that our hearing has a dynamic range of about 100 dB, which is comparable to, indeed slightly greater than, our vision (about 90 dB).

Paolo Dell'Aversana of ENI wants to change that. Rather than listening to 'raw' seismic, he's sending it to a MIDI interface and listening to it as a piano roll. Just try to imagine playing seismic on a piano for a second, then listen to his weird and wonderful results — at 9:45 in this EAGE video:

In this EAGE E-Lecture Paolo Dell'Aversana discusses how digital music technology can support geophysical data analysis and interpretation. If you've read any of Dell'Aversana's articles, you'll know he has one of the most creative minds in exploration geophysics. Skip to 9:45 for the crazy seismic piano roll.

On the subject of weird sounds, one of my favourite Wikipedia pages is List of unexplained sounds. I especially love the eerie recordings of mysterious underwater noises, like this one called Upsweep:

No-one knows what makes that noise! My money's on a volcanic vent, but that doesn't explain the seasonality. Maybe we should do a hackathon on these unexaplained sounds some time. If you know of any others — I'd love tohear about them.


If you enjoy strange infrasound as much as I do, I recommend following these two scientists on Twitter:


f you really like strange noises, don't forget to check out the Undersampled Radio podcast!