NASA uses smartphones to create earthquake warning network

Lindsey Caldwell - Apr 13, 2015, 4:10 am CDT
NASA uses smartphones to create earthquake warning network

NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has found a way to use crowdsourced data from smartphones to create a network of early detection and warnings for earthquakes. The system uses crowdsourced measurements from the GPS sensors in smartphones and tablets. Although smartphone GPS sensors are less accurate than scientific-grade equipment, they are ubiquitous enough to create a widespread network which could work just as well as singular scientific measurements. This technology would especially benefit areas that can’t afford expensive advanced detection and warning systems.

As published in the journal, Science Advances, scientists could analyze anomalous crowdsourced observations and send early warnings to people via smartphone before they can feel the quake because the electronic warning travels faster than the waves of an earthquake. So far, system can only detect and warn of earthquakes with a magnitude of 7 or higher.

In a simulation of the Japan’s 2011 Tohoku quake, which was had a magnitude of 9, researchers found that accurate detection and warnings could be given even if only a small percentage of the population in an affected area was contributing data. According to the report, it could only take 5,000 people in an urban area using the system to create accurate early warnings.

Living in Japan, this is welcome news to me as earthquakes are a regular occurrence. There has been exceptional talk of the next great earthquake this week. Japanese netizens have been flooding the Twitter-sphere with earthquake rumors because 150 dolphins beached themselves on the Japanese coast. Gossip-mongers claim this happened two days before the Tohoku quake in 2011, although scientist claim the events are unrelated.

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