- © 2010 by the Seismological Society of America
Understanding the performance of sensors and recorders is prerequisite to making appropriate use of them in seismology and earthquake engineering. This paper explores a critical aspect of instrument performance, the “self” noise level of the device and the amplitude range it can usefully record. Self noise limits the smallest signals, while instrument clipping level creates the upper limit (above which it either cannot produce signals or becomes unacceptably nonlinear). Where these levels fall, and the “operating range” between them, determines much of the instrument's viability and the applications for which it is appropriate.
The representation of seismic-instrument self-noise levels and their effective operating ranges (cf., dynamic range) for seismological inertial sensors, recorders (data acquisition units, or DAUs), and integrated systems of sensors and recorders (data acquisition systems, or DASs) forces one to address an unnatural comparison between transient finite-bandwidth signals, such as earthquake records, and the instrument's self noise, an effectively stationary signal of infinite duration. In addition to being transient, earthquakes and other records of interest are characterized by a peak amplitude and generally a narrow, peaked spectral shape.
Unfortunately, any power spectrum computed for such transient signals is ill defined, since the maximum of that spectrum depends strongly upon signal and record durations. In contrast, the noise floor of an instrument is approximately stationary and properly described by a power spectral density (PSD) or its root (rPSD). Put another way, earthquake records have units of amplitude (e.g., m/s2) while PSDs have units of amplitude-squared per hertz (e.g., (m/s2)2/Hz) and the rPSD has units of amplitude per root of hertz (e.g., (m/s2)/Hz1/2). Thus, this incompatability is a conflict between earthquake (amplitude) and PSD (spectral density) units that requires one to make various assumptions before they can be compared. …