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Apr 2 / Dave Schumaker

Quake Catcher – Seismology on Your Desktop

Chris Rowan was one of the first in the geoblogosphere to write about this back on March 27 (Slashdot posted an article on March 28th), but for some reason there is a resurgence of news today about this.

The Quake-Catcher Network, run by the University of California, Riverside aims to fill in holes within current seismic networks by using consumer laptops with built in accelerometers to record earthquakes and send real time data to a central location.

“We’re turning the laptops’ accelerometers into earthquake monitors,” said Cochran, an assistant professor of seismology in the Department of Earth Sciences. “With a dense grid of detectors in place, an early warning can be sent through the Internet to neighboring cities should an earthquake strike, giving people up to 10-20 seconds to prepare themselves before the seismic waves reach them.”

Already, about 300 people spread around the world are taking part in the Quake-Catcher Network, with roughly a third of the participants in the United States.

“The idea is to fill in the spaces – or holes – in the seismic network currently being used to report earthquakes,” Cochran said. “With the public’s participation in Quake-Catcher Network, however, we can have a lot more ‘stations’ recording earthquakes, allowing for a better early warning system. At present in California, no such early warning system for earthquakes exists.”

The project sounds fascinating, though I sort of wonder on the practical use of the data for research purposes. Most seismometers are very particular in being aligned with north-south directions and how level they are. Many laptops are set on counter tops without regard to compass orientation (or even a specific location). There are some interesting comments of Chris Rowan’s blog about the software.

My own laptop is on a tilted stand on my desk. I suppose for early warning purposes, this system would be fine, since data from multiple computers would be enough to show wave propagation and such.

That said, I would *love* to get my hands on one of the USB accelerometers once they start producing them (even though I already have an accelerometer built into my MacBook Pro).

For those of you who own an Apple MacBook or MacBook Pro, also check out Seismac 2.0 for a similar real-time display from your laptop’s accelerometer data.

Further Reading:
Ars Technica – Quake-Catcher Project to use laptops to detect earthquakes
Harmonic Tremors – On laptop accelerometers
Highly Allochthonous – Seismology@home
Wired – A Computer Network That Catches Earthquakes in Real Time

[Via Eurekalert]

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