The study, led by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, found that the sensors in smartphones and similar devices could be used to build earthquake warning systems. Despite being less accurate than scientific-grade equipment, theGPS (Global Positioning System) receivers in a smart-phone can detect the permanent ground movement (displacement) caused by fault motion in a large earthquake.
Using crowd-sourced observations from participating users’ smartphones, earthquakes could be detected and analyzed, and customized earthquake warnings could be transmitted back to users.
USGS geophysicist and lead author of the study Sarah Minson said that crowd-sourced alerting means that the community will benefit by data generated from the community.
Researchers tested the feasibility of crowd-sourced EEW with a simulation of a hypothetical magnitude 7 earthquake, and with real data from the 2011 magnitude 9 Tohoku-oki, Japan earthquake. The results show that crowd-sourced EEW could be achieved with only a tiny percentage of people in a given area contributing information from their smartphones.
University of Houston professor and a report author Craig Glennie, explained that the speed of an electronic warning travels faster than the earthquake shaking does.
The authors found that the sensors in smartphones and similar devices could be used to issue earthquake warnings for earthquakes of approximately magnitude 7 or larger, but not for smaller, yet potentially damaging earthquakes.
Scientific-grade EEW, such as the U.S. Geological Survey’s ShakeAlert system that is currently being implemented on the west coast of the United States, will be able to help minimize the impact of earthquakes over a wide range of magnitudes. However, in many parts of the world where there are insufficient resources to build and maintain scientific networks, but consumer electronics are increasingly common, crowd-sourced EEW has significant potential.
Though crowd-sourced data were less precise, for larger earthquakes that cause large shifts in the ground surface, they contained enough information to detect that an earthquake has occurred, information necessary for early warning, said study co-author Susan Owen of NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
The study is published in the new AAAS journal Science Advances.