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The seismologic methods most commonly used in studies of earthquakes and the structure of the continental lithosphere are reviewed in three main sections: earthquake source parameter determinations, the determination of earth structure using natural sources, and controlled-source seismology. The emphasis in each section is on a description of data, the principles behind the analysis techniques, and the assumptions and uncertainties in interpretation. Rather than focusing on future directions in seismology, the goal here is to summarize past and current practice as a companion to the review papers in this volume.

Reliable earthquake hypocenters and focal mechanisms require seismograph locations with a broad distribution in azimuth and distance from the earthquakes; a recording within one focal depth of the epicenter provides excellent hypocentral depth control. For earthquakes of magnitude greater than 4.5, waveform modeling methods may be used to determine source parameters. The seismic moment tensor provides the most complete and accurate measure of earthquake source parameters, and offers a dynamic picture of the faulting process.

Methods for determining the Earth’s structure from natural sources exist for local, regional, and teleseismic sources. One-dimensional models of structure are obtained from body and surface waves using both forward and inverse modeling. Forward-modeling methods include consideration of seismic amplitudes and waveforms, but lack the formal resolution estimates obtained with inverse methods. Two- and three-dimensional lithospheric models are derived using various inverse methods, but at present most of these methods consider only traveltimes of body waves.

Controlled-source studies of the Earth’s structure are generally divided by method into seismic refraction/wide-angle reflection and seismic reflection studies. Seismic refraction profiles are usually interpreted in terms of two-dimensional structure by forward modeling of traveltimes and amplitudes. The refraction method gives excellent estimates of seismic velocities, but relatively low resolution of structure. Formal resolution estimates are not possible for models derived from forward modeling, but informal estimates can be obtained by perturbing the best-fitting model. Inversion methods for seismic refraction data for one-dimensional models are well established, and two- and three-dimensional methods, including tomography, have recently been developed.

Seismic reflection data provide the highest resolution of crustal structure, and have provided many important geological insights in the past decade. The acquisition and processing of these data have been greatly advanced by the hydrocarbon exploration industry. However, reliable crustal velocity control is generally lacking, and the origin of deep crustal reflections remains unclear, resulting in nonunique interpretations. A new form of lithospheric seismology has recently emerged that combines the advantages of seismic refraction and seismic reflection profiles, and the distinction between the two methods is steadily diminishing.

Major challenges for future work will be the collection of data that are more densely sampled in space, and the development of interpretation methods that provide quantitative estimates of the uncertainties in the calculated models.

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