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

  • With eclipse 2017 complete, get ready for eclipse 2024

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Did you miss Monday's eclipse? Or did you enjoy it so much you're already counting down to the next one? Either way, skywatchers in North America don't have nearly as long to wait this time around. Source
  • Planning your 2024 eclipse trip? Here are some tips

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Did you miss Monday's eclipse? Or did you enjoy it so much you're already counting down to the next one? Either way, skywatchers in North America don't have nearly as long to wait this time around. Source
  • Walmart diving into voice-activated shopping with Google

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK - Walmart is diving into voice-activated shopping. But unlike online leader Amazon, it's not doing it alone. The world's largest retailer said Wednesday it's working with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of items from laundry detergent to Legos for voice shopping through Google Assistant. Source
  • U.S. government backs down on request for visitor logs of Trump protest website

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The U.S. government is revising its request for data from an anti-Trump protest site to exclude a log of its visitors, according to a brief filed in Superior Court today, saying it has "no interest" in the records. Source
  • Researchers harness human waste to make products in space

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Deep space missions come with challenges, not the least of which is limited storage space. But scientists are finding ways to reduce the amount of supplies and costly shipments astronauts need on missions, partly by making use of what's already on hand — including human waste. Source
  • Researchers harness human urine to make products in space

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Deep space missions come with challenges, not the least of which is limited storage space. But scientists are finding ways to reduce the amount of supplies and costly shipments astronauts need on missions, partly by making use of what's already on hand — including human waste. Source
  • Two newest astronauts moonstruck as Canada looks beyond space station

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Canada's two newest astronauts are already looking beyond the International Space Station as they begin two years of intense basic training. Joshua Kutryk points out that Canada is committed to the space station until 2024 along with its international partners. Source
  • Farming has changed climate almost as much as deforestation

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Agriculture has contributed nearly as much to climate change as deforestation by intensifying global warming, according to U.S. research that has quantified the amount of carbon taken from the soil by farming. Some 121 billion tonnes (133 billion tons) of carbon have been removed from the top two metres of the earth's soil over the last two centuries by agriculture at a rate that is increasing, said the study in PNAS, a journal published by the National Academy of Sciences. Source
  • Water down your whisky for better flavour: scientists

    Tech & Science CBC News
    On the rocks, neat, or with water? Ask whisky fans and you'll find it's a contentious topic. However, researchers in Sweden say mixing your scotch with water is the best way to maximize the flavours. Source
  • Parents warned to monitor teen use of app Sarahah

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WINNIPEG - The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is warning parents of the dangers of an app popular with teens called Sarahah. The app allows users to send anonymous "constructive criticism" to friends and co-workers, but critics say it has turned into a platform for cyberbullying and harassment. Source