NASA plans to use GPS satellites to pinpoint earthquake magnitude and location

NASA issued a press release this week outlining an interesting way that it wants to use GPS satellites in orbit to help rapidly pinpoint the location and magnitude of earthquakes across the western United States. NASA is calling the plan Real-time Earthquake Analysis for Disaster, and naturally, it has an acronym. In this case, the system is called READI. I have always suspected someone at NASA works full-time coming up with these acronyms.

The READI network uses real-time GPS measurements from almost 500 stations throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. As soon as a larger earthquake is detected, the data gathered by the GPS satellite network is used to calculate the location of the earthquake, magnitude, and details about the particular fault rupture leading to the earthquake. NASA says the quick identification of earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and higher is critical for emergency response.

Earthquakes of that magnitude and above can cause severe damage if they occur near populated areas. NASA also notes that capturing the data from traditional ground-based seismological instruments is difficult. The faster determination of these characteristics by the satellite network will especially help in predicting any tsunamis caused by the earthquake. Tsunami prediction is high on the list of priorities around the world after the disaster that struck Japan.

"With the READI network we are enabling continued development of real-time GPS technologies to advance national and international early warning disaster systems," said Craig Dobson, natural hazards program manager in the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This prototype system is a significant step towards realizing the goal of providing Pacific basin-wide natural hazards capability around the Pacific 'Ring of Fire.'"