Exact free oscillation spectra, splitting functions and the resolvability of earth's density structure

20 Apr 2018

Seismic free oscillations, or normal modes, provide a convenient tool to calculate low- frequency seismograms in heterogeneous Earth models. A procedure called ‘full mode cou- pling’ allows the seismic response of the Earth to be computed. However, in order to be theoretically exact, such calculations must involve an infinite set of modes. In practice, only a finite subset of modes can be used, introducing an error into the seismograms. By systematically increasing the number of modes beyond the highest frequency of interest in the seismograms, we investigate the convergence of full-coupling calculations. As a rule-of-thumb, it is nec- essary to couple modes 1–2 mHz above the highest frequency of interest, although results depend upon the details of the Earth model. This is significantly higher than has previously been assumed. Observations of free oscillations also provide important constraints on the het- erogeneous structure of the Earth. Historically, this inference problem has been addressed by the measurement and interpretation of splitting functions. These can be seen as secondary data extracted from low frequency seismograms. The measurement step necessitates the calculation of synthetic seismograms, but current implementations rely on approximations referred to as self- or group-coupling and do not use fully accurate seismograms. We therefore also investi- gate whether a systematic error might be present in currently published splitting functions. We find no evidence for any systematic bias, but published uncertainties must be doubled to prop- erly account for the errors due to theoretical omissions and regularization in the measurement process. Correspondingly, uncertainties in results derived from splitting functions must also be increased. As is well known, density has only a weak signal in low-frequency seismograms. Our results suggest this signal is of similar scale to the true uncertainties associated with currently published splitting functions. Thus, it seems that great care must be taken in any attempt to robustly infer details of Earth’s density structure using current splitting functions.