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Earthquake waves under Earth’s surface also have both longitudinal and transverse components (called compressional or P-waves and shear or S-waves, respectively). These components have important individual characteristics—they propagate at different speeds, for example. Earthquakes also have surface waves that are similar to surface waves on water.

Why is it important to differentiate between longitudinal and transverse waves?

In the different types of waves, energy can propagate in a different direction relative to the motion of the wave. This is important to understand how different types of waves affect the materials around them.

Section summary

  • A wave is a disturbance that moves from the point of creation with a wave velocity v w size 12{v rSub { size 8{w} } } {} .
  • A wave has a wavelength λ size 12{λ} {} , which is the distance between adjacent identical parts of the wave.
  • Wave velocity and wavelength are related to the wave’s frequency and period by v w = λ T size 12{v size 8{w}= { {λ} over {T} } } {} or v w = . size 12{v size 8{w}=fλ} {}
  • A transverse wave has a disturbance perpendicular to its direction of propagation, whereas a longitudinal wave has a disturbance parallel to its direction of propagation.

Conceptual questions

Give one example of a transverse wave and another of a longitudinal wave, being careful to note the relative directions of the disturbance and wave propagation in each.

What is the difference between propagation speed and the frequency of a wave? Does one or both affect wavelength? If so, how?

Problems&Exercises

Storms in the South Pacific can create waves that travel all the way to the California coast, which are 12,000 km away. How long does it take them if they travel at 15.0 m/s?

t = 9 . 26 d size 12{d= {underline {9 "." "26 d"}} } {}

Waves on a swimming pool propagate at 0.750 m/s. You splash the water at one end of the pool and observe the wave go to the opposite end, reflect, and return in 30.0 s. How far away is the other end of the pool?

Wind gusts create ripples on the ocean that have a wavelength of 5.00 cm and propagate at 2.00 m/s. What is their frequency?

f = 40 . 0 Hz size 12{v rSub { size 8{w} } = {underline {"40" "." "0 Hz"}} } {}

How many times a minute does a boat bob up and down on ocean waves that have a wavelength of 40.0 m and a propagation speed of 5.00 m/s?

Scouts at a camp shake the rope bridge they have just crossed and observe the wave crests to be 8.00 m apart. If they shake it the bridge twice per second, what is the propagation speed of the waves?

v w = 16 . 0 m/s size 12{v rSub { size 8{w} } = {underline {"16" "." "0 m/s"}} } {}

What is the wavelength of the waves you create in a swimming pool if you splash your hand at a rate of 2.00 Hz and the waves propagate at 0.800 m/s?

What is the wavelength of an earthquake that shakes you with a frequency of 10.0 Hz and gets to another city 84.0 km away in 12.0 s?

λ = 700 m size 12{λ="700"`m} {}

Radio waves transmitted through space at 3 . 00 × 10 8 m/s size 12{3 "." "00" times "10" rSup { size 8{8} } "m/s"} {} by the Voyager spacecraft have a wavelength of 0.120 m. What is their frequency?

Your ear is capable of differentiating sounds that arrive at the ear just 1.00 ms apart. What is the minimum distance between two speakers that produce sounds that arrive at noticeably different times on a day when the speed of sound is 340 m/s?

d = 34 . 0 cm size 12{d= {underline {"34" "." "0 cm"}} } {}

(a) Seismographs measure the arrival times of earthquakes with a precision of 0.100 s. To get the distance to the epicenter of the quake, they compare the arrival times of S- and P-waves, which travel at different speeds. [link] ) If S- and P-waves travel at 4.00 and 7.20 km/s, respectively, in the region considered, how precisely can the distance to the source of the earthquake be determined? (b) Seismic waves from underground detonations of nuclear bombs can be used to locate the test site and detect violations of test bans. Discuss whether your answer to (a) implies a serious limit to such detection. (Note also that the uncertainty is greater if there is an uncertainty in the propagation speeds of the S- and P-waves.)

The figure shows a seismograph put on a wooden table. Its top is labeled as “Hands off glass, please”. Below it there are some buttons are shown and a paper roller is fitted in the seismograph to print the observation by the machine. On the right and left of the roller, two vertical cable slots are given.
A seismograph as described in above problem.(credit: Oleg Alexandrov)

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of physics. OpenStax CNX. Aug 25, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11738/1.5
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