Seismic Station Installation Orientation Errors at ANSS and IRIS/USGS Stations

Seismological Research Letters
By: , and 



Many seismological studies depend on the published orientations of sensitive axes of seismic instruments relative to north (e.g., Li et al., 2011). For example, studies of the anisotropic structure of the Earth’s mantle through SKS‐splitting measurements (Long et al., 2009), constraints on core–mantle electromagnetic coupling from torsional normal‐mode measurements (Dumberry and Mound, 2008), and models of three‐dimensional (3D) velocity variations from surface waves (Ekström et al., 1997) rely on accurate sensor orientation. Unfortunately, numerous results indicate that this critical parameter is often subject to significant error (Laske, 1995; Laske and Masters, 1996; Yoshizawa et al., 1999; Schulte‐Pelkum et al., 2001; Larson and Ekström, 2002).

For the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS; ANSS Technical Integration Committee, 2002), the Global Seismographic Network (GSN; Butler et al., 2004), and many other networks, sensor orientation is typically determined by a field engineer during installation. Successful emplacement of a seismic instrument requires identifying true north, transferring a reference line, and measuring the orientation of the instrument relative to the reference line. Such an exercise is simple in theory, but there are many complications in practice.

There are four commonly used methods for determining true north at the ANSS and GSN stations operated by the USGS Albuquerque Seismological Laboratory (ASL), including gyroscopic, astronomical, Global Positioning System (GPS), and magnetic field techniques. A particular method is selected based on site conditions (above ground, below ground, availability of astronomical observations, and so on) and in the case of gyroscopic methods, export restrictions. Once a north line has been determined, it must be translated to the sensor location. For installations in mines or deep vaults, this step can include tracking angles through the one or more turns in the access tunnel leading to the vault (e.g., GSN station WCI in Wyandotte Cave, Indiana). Finally, the third source of error comes from the ability of field engineers to orient the sensor relative to the reference line.

In order to quantify bounds on the errors in each step in the orientation process, we conducted a series of tests at the ASL using twelve GSN and ANSS field engineers. The results from this exercise allow us to estimate upper bounds on the precision of our ability to orient instruments, as well as identify the sources of error in the procedures. We are also able to identify systematic bias of various true‐north‐finding methods relative to one another. Although we are unable to estimate the absolute accuracy of our orientation measurements due to our inability to identify true north without some error, the agreement between independent methods for finding true north provides confidence in the different approaches, assuming no systematic bias. Finally, our study neglects orientation errors that are beyond the control of the field engineer during a station visit. These additional errors can arise from deviations in the sensitive axes of the instruments relative to the case markings, processing errors (Holcomb, 2002) when comparing horizontal orientations relative to other sensors (e.g., borehole installations), and deviations of the sensitive axes of instruments from true orthogonality (e.g., instruments with separate modules such as the Streckeisen STS‐1).

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Seismic Station Installation Orientation Errors at ANSS and IRIS/USGS Stations
Series title Seismological Research Letters
DOI 10.1785/0220130072
Volume 84
Issue 6
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher Seismological Society of America
Publisher location El Cerrito, CA
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center
Description 6 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Seismological Research Letters
First page 926
Last page 931
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