Pitfalls in interpretation of shallow seismic data

Ahmed Ismail, Edward Smith, Andrew Phillips, Andrew Stumpf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


High-resolution shallow seismic methods are the most widely used geophysical methods in near surface characterization. However, in many cases interpreting the seismic images can be misleading. In this article, we present three case studies where results from P-wave seismic reflection, SH-wave seismic reflection, and multi-channel analysis of surface wave (MASW) surveys were incorrectly interpreted because of inadequate constraints on either the surveyed sites surface or subsurface conditions. A P-wave reflection survey feature was first interpreted as a shallow fault zone but it was later determined to result from a high level of background noise as the acquisition passed through a road intersection. A SH-wave seismic reflection survey feature was interpreted to be a reverse dip-slip fault but targeted drilling showed it was deep local erosion into the bedrock surface. Finally, in an MASW survey, a steeply dipping feature was first interpreted as a bedrock valley. However, later exploratory drilling showed the feature to be a shallow layer of very soft lake sediment that severely damped most of the applied surface wave frequency band. Although initial interpretations were incorrect, they stimulated discussions among geophysicists and geologists and underscored the need for meaningful cooperation and discourse between the scientists before, during, and after geophysical data acquisition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-94
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Geophysics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Seismic reflection
  • interpretation
  • multi-channel analysis of surface wave
  • pitfalls

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics


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