According to a research published recently in the journal Science Advances, smartphones and similar personal electronic gadgets could actually be used to detect earthquakes and even as part of an alert system for people in poorer countries.
An early warning system could be set up by adapting the smartphone’s global positioning system (GPS) receivers to reveal any ground movement created by an important earthquake. The research adds that by using crowd-sourced observations from different users’ gadgets, earthquakes could quickly be both analyzed and detected. After all this is done, earthquake alarms could also be sent back to users who’s phones provided the data in order to detect them.
Even if an earthquake detector on a smartphone would not be quite as precise as actual high-end scientific equipment, this smartphone program could work well in countries that cannot afford the new and expansive earthquake early warning systems. The scientists announced that only a few of the world’s earthquake-prone danger zones actually have installed earthquake early warning systems.
“Most of the world does not receive earthquake warnings mainly due to the cost of building the necessary scientific monitoring networks,” said Project leader and USGS geophysicist Benjamin Brooks, while research lead author Sarah Minson, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, added: “Crowd-sourced alerting means that the community will benefit by data generated from the community.”
The research team gathered information from an earthquake that took place in Japan in 2011 in order to develop an earthquake simulation. It was used to test the real feasibility of a crowd-sourced early warning system. Their study showed that such a system would be really effective even if only a small percentage of those living in an affected area offered information from their smartphones.
The scientists revealed that a crowd-sourced system would be efficient with data gathered from less than 5,000 people in any large city, numbering millions of citizens. The team added that the system would only be effective for high-impact earthquakes of “magnitude 7 or larger”.
“Crowd-sourced data are less precise, but for larger earthquakes contain enough information to detect that an earthquake has occurred, information necessary for early warning,” Susan Owen, co-author of the study, said in a statement.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has given its approval to test a pilot warning system which is based on smartphone sensors and scientific-grade sensors which would be placed along the Chilean coast.
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