How love waves work

In elastodynamics, Love waves are horizontally polarized shear waves (SH waves) guided by an elastic layer, which is "welded" to an elastic half space on one side while bordering a vacuum on the other side. In seismology, Love waves (also known as Q waves (Quer: German for lateral)) are surface seismic waves that cause horizontal shifting of the earth during an earthquake. A. E. H. Love predicted the existence of Love waves mathematically in 1911; the name comes from him (Chapter 11 from Love's book "Some problems of geodynamics", first published in 1911). They form a distinct class, different from other types of seismic waves, such as P-waves and S-waves (both body waves), or Rayleigh waves (another type of surface wave). Love waves travel with a slower velocity than P- or S- waves, but faster than Rayleigh waves.These waves are observed only when there is a low velocity layer overlying a high velocity layer/ sub stratum.


The particle motion of a Love wave forms a horizontal line perpendicular to the direction of propagation (i.e. are transverse waves). Moving deeper into the material, motion can decrease to a "node" and then alternately increase and decrease as one examines deeper layers of particles. The amplitude, or maximum particle motion, often decreases rapidly with depth.

Since Love waves travel on the Earth's surface, the strength (or amplitude) of the waves decrease exponentially with the depth of an earthquake. However, given their confinement to the surface, their amplitude decays only as \(\frac{1}{\sqrt{r}}\), where \(r\) represents the distance the wave has traveled from the earthquake. Surface waves therefore decay more slowly with distance than do body waves, which travel in three dimensions. Large earthquakes may generate Love waves that travel around the Earth several times before dissipating.

Since they decay so slowly, Love waves are the most destructive outside the immediate area of the focus or epicentre of an earthquake. They are what most people feel directly during an earthquake.

In the past, it was often thought that animals like cats and dogs could predict an earthquake before it happened. However, they are simply more sensitive to ground vibrations than humans and able to detect the subtler body waves that precede Love waves, like the P-waves and the S-waves.[1]

See also


  • A. E. H. Love, "Some problems of geodynamics", first published in 1911 by the Cambridge University Press and published again in 1967 by Dover, New York, USA. (Chapter 11: Theory of the propagation of seismic waves)
  1. "What Is Seismology?". Michigan Technological University. 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
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