The effects of topographic features on Rayleigh wave propagation and scattoring are investigated in the laboratory using three-dimensional ultrasonic models. Starting from simple steps, different topographic features are modeled. The effects of these features on Rayleigh wave transmission and scattering are examined as a function of wavelength and as a function of angle of incidence. In general, backscattered or reflected Rayleigh waves are small compared to transmitted waves. A significant fraction of the Rayleigh wave energy is scattered into body waves. Transmission and reflection coefficients (transmitted or reflected energy/incident energy) computed from spectral ratios vary strongly with incidence angle. At wavelengths equal to twice the step height, the fraction of incident energy scattered into body waves ranges from more than 90 per cent at normal incidence to about zero at near-grazing incidence. At each angle, transmission coefficients vary strongly with frequency. Because of frequency-dependent phase shifts, the transmitted and reflected waves are distorted.

The effect of the steps on the propagation of Rayleigh waves is demonstrated by convolving synthetic dispersed wave trains with the impulse response of the scale models. The ocean-continent margin of the Western United States is modeled as a 60° ramp scaled to 60 km height. The Tibetan Plateau is modeled as a broad mesa scaled to 40 km height. In both models, azimuthal dependence of transmitted Rayleigh waves is similar to that observed at WWSSN stations for Rayleigh waves crossing the modeled terrestrial structures.

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