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Personal Computers Map, Track Earthquakes Using Motion Sensors

Four years in the making, the Quake-Catcher Network uses inexpensive motion sensors installed in volunteers' computers to collect earthquake data in real time.

by / May 3, 2010
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In Chile, Andres Sepulveda never saw the magnitude 8.8 earthquake coming in February, but his laptop captured the data during the catastrophe.

As an assistant professor at the University of Concepción, Sepulveda studies oceanography. But in January, just before he left for a vacation, he installed on his five-year-old laptop a USB motion sensor device. It's part of an expanding seismic network, which has the potential to send warnings, save lives and bolster public safety efforts when an earthquake strikes. Called the Quake-Catcher Network (QCN), the project uses inexpensive motion sensors in volunteers' computers to collect real-time earthquake data.

"I had this instrument as part of scientific curiosity," Sepulveda said. "Chile is a seismic country so I had the idea it could get something while I was away. It was just a test, so I left it on top of a box on the floor of my office. And then the earthquake happened."

Four years in the making, the QCN was developed by California university researchers to fill gaps in current earthquake monitoring efforts, hampered by 10- to 15-second reporting delays and costly equipment.

By forming a global web of seismic sensors that captures data on the spot, the network can be the key to an earthquake early warning system.


To read the story by
Emergency Management magazine, click here.

 

Russell Nichols Staff Writer