What is the Radius of the Earth's Core?

Team: 32

School: Los Alamos Mid

Area of Science: Earth and Space Sciences


Problem Definition: The planet Earth has a core made up of a solid inner core surrounded by a liquid outer core. These two cores combine make up the Earth’s core and it produces the magnetic field. The Earth’s magnetic field protects every life form on Earth from the Sun’s strong solar wind, a stream of charged particles.

Problem Solution: I plan to utilize the seismic data from the US Geological Survey (USGS) to calculate the outer radius of the Earth’s core. The computer programming methodology that I will use to calculate the outer core’s radius is:

Progress to Date: I am currently talking with two scientists to help me obtain the seismic data and learn how to read the seismogram data. Ruben Rangel is a retired geologist from the USGS and is currently a subcontractor with the US Department of Energy at Los Alamos. He has given me access to the seismic data collected by the USGS. Mr. Rangel also gave me some ideas on how to analyze the seismic data. Mark Petersen is an environmental computational scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He advised me to simplify my calculations by pre-processing the seismic data because the data base consists of over a million data points. I will take Mr. Petersen’s advice and pre-process the data to develop a file containing only the seismic data necessary for my project.

I started reviewing the seismic data to identify seismic stations showing the S-wave shadowing effect. The S-wave shadowing effect is the location from the earthquake whereby the S-wave is no longer recorded. I am looking for two seismic stations close to each other whereby one seismic location records the S-wave and the second seismic location does not.

Expected Results: I plan to write a computer code using the python programming language that will perform the mathematical calculations to calculate the average Earth’s outer core radius. The computer code will read the pre-processed seismic data from the USGS and calculate the S-wave shadowing locations. Using the estimated distance from the earthquake to the S-wave shadowing locations, the computer program will calculate the outer Earth’s core radius. The outer core radius is the radius of the liquid core, including the inner solid core. This computer program will later be improved to calculate the inner solid core that is surrounded by the outer liquid core.


Sponsoring Teacher: Curtis B. Terrill

Team Members:

  Veronica Parra

Sponsoring Teacher: NA

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