Interpretation of Helioseismic Travel Times: Sensitivity to Sound Speed, Pressure, Density, and Flows

Raymond Burston, Laurent Gizon, Aaron C. Birch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Time-distance helioseismology uses cross-covariances of wave motions on the solar surface to determine the travel times of wave packets moving from one surface location to another. We review the methodology to interpret travel-time measurements in terms of small, localised perturbations to a horizontally homogeneous reference solar model. Using the first Born approximation, we derive and compute 3D travel-time sensitivity (Fréchet) kernels for perturbations in sound-speed, density, pressure, and vector flows. While kernels for sound speed and flows had been computed previously, here we extend the calculation to kernels for density and pressure, hence providing a complete description of the effects of solar dynamics and structure on travel times. We treat three thermodynamic quantities as independent and do not assume hydrostatic equilibrium. We present a convenient approach to computing damped Green’s functions using a normal-mode summation. The Green’s function must be computed on a wavenumber grid that has sufficient resolution to resolve the longest lived modes. The typical kernel calculations used in this paper are computer intensive and require on the order of 600 CPU hours per kernel. Kernels are validated by computing the travel-time perturbation that results from horizontally-invariant perturbations using two independent approaches. At fixed sound-speed, the density and pressure kernels are approximately related through a negative multiplicative factor, therefore implying that perturbations in density and pressure are difficult to disentangle. Mean travel-times are not only sensitive to sound-speed, density and pressure perturbations, but also to flows, especially vertical flows. Accurate sensitivity kernels are needed to interpret complex flow patterns such as convection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-219
Number of pages19
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Helioseismology
  • Scattering
  • Solar interior
  • Wave propagation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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