Earthquake app promises detection and early-warning system

VANCOUVER -- Smarthphone technology is shaking up earthquake research with a new app that may soon connect millions of users around the world to create an early-warning network.

See Full Article

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have released a crowdsourcing Android application called MyShake that uses data from a smartphone's built-in vibration sensor to detect the presence of a quake.

The program uses a smartphone's accelerometer to detect the shaking. It's the same device that fitness apps use to count footsteps. An iPhone app is also planned.

The end goal is to develop the technology into a global, seismic-detection system that provides advance warning to the public and to emergency personnel about the speed, direction, power and arrival time of an incoming earthquake.

Richard Allen, senior researcher on the app project, said he hopes to incorporate public alerts within a year or two.

"The brains of the system, what makes this possible ... is how do you distinguish between earthquake shaking and everyday shaking," said Allen, who is also director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

A team of academics spent several years advancing the project, using shake tables and human subjects to identify the 20 unique characteristics of earthquake quavers compared to movement from routine activities, such as running or riding a bus.

A number of traditional seismic stations have long been installed across the Pacific Northwest to detect tremors. While smartphones will never replace these more sensitive terminals, Allen said the app could complement and strengthen the existing technology.

There are about 400 seismic stations in California compared to the state's 16 million smartphones, which Allens said means MyShake could more than make up for what it lacks in sensitivity with sheer numbers.

On the Canadian side, research from digital-marketing firm Catalyst revealed a 68-per-cent smartphone penetration rate in 2015, which translates to roughly 24 million devices in the country.

One especially valuable possible application for MyShake is the potential to offer earthquake early warning to shake-prone regions not equipped with traditional seismic-detection systems.

"That's the real power here. You go to places like Nepal where there were these big earthquakes earlier this year and there are very few seismic stations in that country. But there are six million smartphones," Allen said.

"In the city of Kathmandu, where most of the damage occurred, alone there are 600,000 smartphones."

The app's release follows last week's announcement of more than $8 million in both government and charitable funding to American universities along the Pacific coast for ShakeAlert, a chain of fixed detection stations.

"The way it works is we take the (seismic) network we have and basically put it on steroids," said John Vidale, a University of Washington professor and director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

Hundreds of upgraded and additional stations along the coast would provide seconds to minutes of valuable warning time, which Vidale estimated could reduce between 10 and 50 per cent of injuries and damage.

Some data sharing takes place between Canada and the United States, but so far no conclusions have been reached over what a region-wide warning system might look like.

"We need to consider British Columbia when we're looking at (early) warning for the U.S. because the earthquakes in Cascadia could start off Vancouver Island," Vidale said.

"We need to be watching the whole thing if we want to get the maximum warning and the most accurate picture of what's happening."

Teron Moore of Victoria-based Ocean Networks Canada said both his group and Emergency Management British Columbia are beta-testers for the ShakeAlert software.

Progress on either side of the border supports the bigger picture of earthquake early warning, Moore said.

"We're all on the same team bringing these puzzle pieces together," he said. "Earthquakes really don't recognize borders."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Giraffes, rarer than elephants, put on extinction watch list

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON - Biologists say the giraffe, the tallest land animal, is now at risk of extinction. The giraffe population has shrunk nearly 40 per cent in just 30 years. Scientists have put it on the official watch list of threatened and endangered species worldwide, calling it "vulnerable. Source
  • Gifts for gamers: Everything from 'Star Wars' to 'Watch Dogs 2'

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    Picking a holiday gift for the video game lovers on your list can be as difficult as deciding on your starter Pokemon, your Skyrim character class or which augmentations to apply to Adam Jensen’s cybernetic body. (The gamers will understand those references, even if you don’t. Source
  • The weather outside is frightful thanks to climate change and the polar vortex

    Tech & Science CBC News
    With cold, blustering snowstorms battering the West Coast and the Prairies, you might be tempted to say "What global warming?" But climate change may, in fact, be to blame for this oh-so-Canadian winter. "Doesn't global warming mean that we're going to get warmer, shorter winters? Well, in some areas, yes, but it actually could mean we could see colder episodes," Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips told CBC News. Source
  • Cassini sends back 1st images from new orbit around Saturn

    Tech & Science CBC News
    NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent back stunning close-up images of Saturn from its new orbit. The spacecraft, which has been at Saturn since 2004, recently entered a new ring-grazing orbit around the planet. While in its new territory, Cassini will study the rings — which extend up to 282,000 kilometres from the planet and range in size from small grains to a few as big as mountains — in unprecedented detail. Source
  • Award-winning scientist says compromise needed on climate debate

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Canadians need to turn down the heat and start listening to each other when they discuss global warming, says the winner of a major scientific award for his work on Arctic ice and climate change. "I think we need to talk," said John England of the University of Alberta, who was awarded the $50,000 Weston Family prize for northern research Wednesday in Winnipeg. Source
  • Your brain registers more than you think you see, NYU researchers find

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Your brain is capable of retaining information about things you think you haven't noticed, according to a team of scientists in a study published in the journal Neuron on Wednesday. "Our results indicate that what is 'invisible' to the naked eye can, in fact, be encoded and briefly stored by our brain," said the study's lead author, Jean-Rémi King, a postdoctoral fellow at New York University's (NYU) department of psychology. Source
  • Do you hear what AI hear?

    Tech & Science CBC News
    This time of year, it's almost impossible to avoid holiday music, from old classics to contemporary pop renditions. But one day, you may find yourself singing new holiday songs…written by a computer. A group of computer scientists at the University of Toronto recently published a paper called "Song From PI: A Musically Plausible Network for Pop Music Generation. Source
  • Apple blames external damage for flaming China iPhones

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Apple has blamed "external physical damage" for causing a handful of iPhones to explode or catch fire in China and insisted that its handsets posed no safety problem. Fresh on the heels of Samsung's worldwide Galaxy Note 7 safety fiasco, a Shanghai consumer watchdog said last Friday it had received eight recent reports of iPhones that spontaneously combusted while being used or charged. Source
  • These were Apple's most popular apps of 2016

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Apple has released their list of the most downloaded apps of 2016, which is topped by none other than Snapchat. The self-deleting, image and video-sharing app beat out Messenger and Pokémon Go to become the most popular downloaded app this year. Source
  • Record 607 bears killed in New Jersey's hunt

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TRENTON, N.J. -- Hunters have killed a record 607 bears in New Jersey. The number was reached Tuesday when hunters bagged 18 bruins during the second day of the second part of this year's hunt. Source