S waves and P waves are the two types of seismic waves produced by all earthquakes. P waves are primary waves because they arrive at seismic reporting stations first. These shear waves are secondary waves because they travel at slightly slower speeds and are the second set of seismic waves recorded on seismographs. Scientists use the difference in time to determine the earthquake focus and epicenter.
Shear wave movement on the
surface of the Earth, USGS
Shear waves move in a back and forth motion as they travel through the Earth. This movement causes the rock particles to be displaced at right angles. This displacement causes the rocks to shear. These waves are also referred to as shear waves. P waves travel through solids liquids and gases.
Where they travel
Shear waves only travel through solids and dissipate when they reach a liquid. The waves also travel at different speeds in different densities of rocks.
Travel speed through the crust
Shear waves travel through the crust of the Earth at speeds between 2.0 and 4.2 km/sec. They speed up when they reach the Moho boundary which separates the crust from the mantle.
Moving through the mantle
In the mantle S waves travel between 4.5 and 4.9 km/sec depending on the density of the rocks. P waves travel in the crust between 1.5 and 8.0 km/sec. In the crust they increase their speed up to 8.5 km/sec.
Since both these seismic waves travel through the body of the Earth they are called body waves. Scientists using the changing speeds of the waves first determined the Moho boundary.
Outer and inner core of the Earth
The outer liquid core and the inner solid core were discovered later. Most of what we know today about the inside of the Earth has been discovered by seismologists studying earthquake waves.
Plate Movements Moving plates on our planet converge, separate and slide past each other.
Nazca Plate This plate converges with the Pacific Plate producing very large earthquakes off the coast of Chile.
Thrust Faults These faults occur where large blocks of land can be forced over the top of another block of land at a low angle.
Divergent Boundary These boundaries form the global mid-ocean ridge system which is the largest mountain chain on Earth.
Crustal Plates There are large and small plates that cover the Earth. Subduction zones form where these plates are recycled.
S Waves Find out how these waves are produced and what parts of teh Earth they travel through.
Plate Tectonics Find out lots of fascinating facts and interesting trivia on plate tectonics.
Kids Fun Science The links on our home page include information about volcanoes, science activities, plate tectonics, the rock cycle and much more.
Check out Myrna Martin's award winning textbooks, e-books, videos and rock sets. The Ring of Fire Science Bookstore covers a wide range of earth science topics. Click here to browse.