Sunday, February 14, 2016

Can Cellphones Save California?

In the news this week has been a few articles about a cellphone app that acts like a seismometer, and reports earthquake motions to users and scientists.

Scientists develop new app that uses your cellphone to detect earthquakes
UC Berkeley scientists are hoping to capture that sharing impulse in a massive science experiment: Using cellphones to detect earthquakes as soon as they start. They hope that by turning mobile phones into vast data collection points, they can quickly glean information about the quakes and warn those farther away from the epicenter that shaking is on the way.

On Friday, scientists unveiled an app that will test this idea with anyone around the world who wants to participate. Named MyShake, the free app, available on Google Android phones and at, uses smartphone sensors to detect movement caused by an earthquake.

Users who download the app will be sending data to scientists when an earthquake as small as a magnitude 5 hits.

By harvesting information from hundreds of phones closest to the earthquake, scientists will be able to test a computer system that could, in the future, dispatch early warnings that shaking is seconds or minutes away to people farther away from the earthquake’s origin. For instance, if a quake started in San Bernardino, cell phones there could register the quake and quickly help send warnings to smartphone users in Los Angeles.

“This is a citizen science project,” said Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at UC Berkeley. “This is an app that provides information, education, motivation — to the people who’ve downloaded it — to get ready for earthquakes. Those same people are contributing to our further understanding of earthquakes, because they’re collecting data that will help us better understand the earthquake process.”
This looks like a really good way to overload and shut down the cell phone network in the event of a major earthquake to me.

I would suggest that this indicates that a dispersed network of connected seismographs should be rather cheap and easy to institute.

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