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Seismic waves help scientists 'see' chemical changes beneath a watershed

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Chemical reactions deep below ground affect water quality, but methods for “seeing” them are time-consuming, expensive and limited in scope. A Penn State-led research team found that seismic waves can help to identify these reactions under an entire watershed and protect groundwater resources.

“About one third of the U.S. population gets their drinking water from groundwater, so we need to protect this valuable resource,” said Susan Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences and director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) at Penn State. “At this point, however, we don’t know where the water is or how it moves in the subsurface because we don’t know what is down there. In this study we used human-generated seismic waves — similar to the waves from earthquakes — to look under the surface.”

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seismic logging