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Published February 28, 1991 | public
Journal Article

Seismic excitation by the space shuttle Columbia


Seismic stations in southern California recorded the atmospheric shock waves generated by the space shuttle Columbia on its return to the Edwards Air Force base on 13 August 1989 (Fig. 1). In addition to the shock wave, the broad-band IRIS–TERRAscope station at Pasadena recorded a distinct pulse with a period of ~2–3 seconds, which arrived 12.5 seconds before the shock wave (Fig. 2). This pulse was also recorded at the University of Southern California, near downtown Los Angeles, where it arrived 3 seconds after the shock wave. The origin of this pulse could not be readily identified. We show here that it was a seismic P wave excited by the motion of high-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles, which were hit by the shock wave. The proximity of the natural period of the high-rise buildings to that of the Los Angeles basin enabled efficient energy transfer from shock wave to seismic wave.

Additional Information

© 1991 Nature Publishing Group. Received 22 October 1990; accepted 8 January 1991. We thank B. Sturtevant, P. Jennings, J. Beck and D. Harkrider for discussions, D. Goldstein, for information on the space shuttle parameters. D. Maglieri for the references to seismic measurements of sonic booms, and F. Borden. Los Angeles City Fire Department, for providing the building statistics in the city of Los Angeles.

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