Scientists have developed a proof-of-concept Android phone app known as MyShake that can detect earthquakes at a distance of 10 kilometers or less.
The app, which can differentiate between everyday shaking and quakes, takes advantage of the accelerometers integrated into modern smartphones, as such sensors are capable of detecting seismic activity.
Once a phone running the app detects a quake, the data is forwarded to a central site where an algorithm processes the data in an attempt to confirm its authenticity while also determining its location and magnitude — all of which is accomplished in real time.
According to the scientists behind its creation, whose findings were published in the journal Science Advances, the system could find application in boosting earthquake early warning (EEW) systems in regions with traditional networks in place. And in regions where no such networks exist, it could provide the only detection network.
Additionally, the researchers noted that the newly developed system may prove useful in studying the impact of seismic activity on buildings as well as provide a means to transmit rapid microseism maps. And if that wasn’t enough, the system may harbor the potential to image earthquake rupture and shallow earth structure kinematics.
The research was conducted by scientists affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, Deutsche Telekom Silicon Valley Innovation Laboratories and Utah State University.
One of the researchers, UC Berkeley’s Richard Allen, was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as having said that the app “provides information, education, motivation – to the people who’ve downloaded it – to get ready for earthquakes.”
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.
Allen, who is the director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at UC Berkeley, is working on a $38 million West Coast EEW system along with a larger team of scientists than those involved in the creation of the new MyShake app.
While Allen doesn’t believe that their newly invented smartphone-based early warning system will ever replace the U.S. Geological Survey’s–which is composed of sophisticated underground sensory arrays–the app could be used to boost the current system. On the other hand, in countries like Nepal where there are nearly no seismic stations, but 6 million smartphones, the app’s potential is significant.
Nepal has almost no seismic stations. But they have 6 million smartphones. There are 600,000 smartphones in Kathmandu alone […] So if we can get MyShake working, then we could potentially be providing early warning in Kathmandu.
The researchers behind the new app are presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).