A Trippy View Inside Earth's Mantle

This 3D model could help us prepare for earthquakes

Inner Earth Revealed

PSC0715_Nextcourtesy Ebru Bozdağ, University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, and David Pugmire, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Inner Earth is a mysterious place. Its seismic rumblings spawn deadly earthquakes and volcanoes, often without warning. But a new model, powered by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Titan supercomputer, analyzes reams of seismic-wave data to reveal the contents (and potential behavior) of Earth's mantle in strikingly clear detail.

250: Number of earthquakes, magnitude 5.5 and greater, analyzed to make this 3D model.

Blue and green swirls represent cold, dense rock, through which seismic waves move quickly. Red and orange indicate hotter, younger rock that slows waves down. Seismologists can use the 3D model to pinpoint hidden magma pockets or underlying tectonic plates. Someday it could also change the way engineers prepare for earthquakes.

“Suppose you want to build a structure in Los Angeles,” says Princeton University geophysicist Jeroen Tromp. “We can precisely simulate the kind of ground motions it might be subjected to and make informed decisions about building materials.”

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of Popular Science.