Seismic Events Reveal Ocean Temperatures

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Decades ago, researchers proposed sending sound waves through the ocean to measure its temperature. Although the technique worked, it ran into noise pollution issues, but now it’s back, using naturally-occurring seismic events as the sound source.

When fault lines shift, they generate seismic waves that travel through the ocean as sound. When they reach a land mass, the waves get converted back into seismic energy that’s then picked up by a receiver. Knowing the distance from the source to the receiver and the time necessary for the wave to travel, scientists can then determine the average temperature of the water based on the speed of sound.

The technique can track temperature changes down to thousandths of a degree. Based on more than a decade of seismic data from the Indian Ocean, researchers found almost double the temperature increase measured by a different sensor network. (Image and video credit: Science; research credit: W. Wu et al.; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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