Precursors to S and SKS were observed in long-period SRO and WWSSN seismograms of the Romanian earthquake of March 4, 1977, recorded in the United States at distances from 68° to 93°. According to the fault-plane solution, the stations were close to a nodal plane and SV radiation was optimum in their direction. Particle-motion diagrams, constructed from the digital data of the SRO station ANMO (distance 89.1°), show the P-wave character of the precursors. Several interpretations are discussed; the most plausible is that the precursors are Sp phases generated by conversion from S to P below the station. The travel-time differences between S or SKS and Sp are about 60 sec and indicate conversion in the transition zone between the upper and lower mantle. Sp conversions were also observed at long-period WWSSN stations in the western United States for 2 Tonga-Fiji deep-focus earthquakes (distances from 82° to 96°).

Special emphasis is given in this paper to the calculation of theoretical seismograms, both for Sp precursors and the P-wave coda, including high-order multiples such as sP4 which may arrive simultaneously with Sp. The Sp calculations show: (1) the conversions produced by S, ScS, and SKS at interfaces or transition zones between the upper and lower mantle form a complicated interference pattern, and (2) conversion at transition zones is less effective than at first-order discontinuities only if their thickness is greater than about half a wavelength of S waves. As a consequence, details of the velocity structure between the upper and lower mantle can only be determined within these limits from long-period Sp observations. Our observations are compatible with velocity models having pronounced transition zones at depths of 400 and 670 km as have been proposed for the western United States, and they exclude much smoother structures. Our study suggests that long-period Sp precursors from pure thrust or normal-fault earthquakes, observed at distances from 70° to 95° close to a nodal plane and at azimuths roughly perpendicular to its strike, offer a simple means for qualitative mapping of the sharpness of the transition zones between the upper and lower mantle.

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