Characteristics of Current‐Induced Harmonic Tremor Signals in Ocean‐Bottom Seismometer Records

Vera.Schlindwein [ at ]


Long‐lasting harmonic tremor signals are frequently observed in spectrograms of seismological data. Natural sources, such as volcanoes and icebergs, or artificial sources, such as ships and helicopters, produce very similar harmonic tremor episodes. Ocean‐bottom seismometer (OBS) records may additionally be contaminated by tremor induced by ocean‐bottom currents acting on the OBS structure. This harmonic tremor noise may severely hinder earthquake detection and can be misinterpreted as volcanic tremor. In a 160‐km‐long network of 27 OBSs deployed for 1 yr along the Knipovich ridge in the Greenland Sea, harmonic tremor was widely observed away from natural sources such as volcanoes. Based on this network, we present a systematic analysis of the characteristics of hydrodynamically induced harmonic tremor in OBS records to make it distinguishable from natural tremor sources and reveal its generation processes. We apply an algorithm that detects harmonic tremor and extracts time series of its fundamental frequency and spectral amplitude. Tremor episodes typically occur twice per day, starting with fundamental frequencies of 0.5–1.0 Hz, and show three distinct stages that are characterized by frequency‐gliding, mode‐locking, and large spectral amplitudes, respectively. We propose that ocean‐bottom currents larger than ∼5cm/s cause rhythmical Karman vortex shedding around protruding structures of the OBS and excite eigenvibrations. Head‐buoy strumming is the most likely source of the dominant tremor signal, whereas a distinctly different tremor signal with a fundamental frequency ∼6Hz may be related to eigenvibrations of the radio antenna. Ocean‐bottom current velocities reconstructed from the fundamental tremor frequency and from cross correlation of tremor time series between stations match observed average current velocities of 14–20cm/s in this region. The tremor signal periodicity shows the same tidal constituents as the forcing ocean‐bottom currents, which is a further evidence of the hydrodynamic nature of the tremor.

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DOI 10.1785/0220200397

Cite as
Essing, D. , Schlindwein, V. , Schmidt-Aursch, M. C. , Hadziioannou, C. and Stähler, S. C. (2021): Characteristics of Current‐Induced Harmonic Tremor Signals in Ocean‐Bottom Seismometer Records , Seismological Research Letters . doi: 10.1785/0220200397

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