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Can Scientists Crowdsource Earthquake Detection?

posted: 04/13/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Earthquake aftermath, overpass of highway.
Mark Downey/Getty

Geologists are redirecting earthquake detection efforts toward one of the most abundant pieces of consumer technology: cell phones. U.S. Geological Survey scientists believe that GPS receivers in smartphones are sensitive enough to detect ground displacement resulting from an earthquake.

"The speed of an electronic warning travels faster than the earthquake shaking does," said study author Craig Glennie, professor at the University of Houston in Texas.

According to researchers, as few as 5,000 people are needed in a single metropolitan area for the cell phone data to work. However, the detection method is only effective for major magnitude 7 earthquakes and above.

Although much of the world's population could be impacted by an earthquake strong enough to cause damage, costly earthquake detection infrastructure is not available to most of the world.

"Thirty years ago, it took months to assemble a crude picture of the deformations from an earthquake. This new technology promises to provide a near-instantaneous picture with much greater resolution," said study coauthor Thomas Heaton.

Click here for more information from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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