If you were jolted awake by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, and want to be ready for the next Big One, consider signing up for this early warning system.
A USGS geophysicist plans to distribute at least 1,000 small earthquake sensors for volunteers to create an Internet-based early warning system for big earthquakes in Southern California. Go to the qcn.stanford.edu site if you want to participate.
Dr. Elizabeth Cochran was recognized by President Barack Obama last year for her instrumental role in the development of a new method of earthquake monitoring using low-cost earthquake sensors, called the Quake-Catcher Network (QCN). It allows scientists to monitor earthquakes and quantify ground shaking with spatial resolution through data gathered from citizen volunteers.
The QCN, a collaborative research project between Cochran and Jesse Lawrence of Stanford University, uses computers that are installed with software and special sensors to record moderate-to-large earthquakes and aftershocks. Volunteers have the sensors installed externally to their desktop computers or internally to their laptops, and the computers become stations to measure seismic activity.
The computers are then monitored using distributed computing techniques that allow scientists to monitor the sensors and retrieve earthquake data automatically.
Here's how the Penninsula Press described the system:
The idea behind the Quake-Catcher Network is to reduce the time it takes for seismic waves to reach the nearest sensor. With more sensors, in more places, a big quake might be detected right when it begins.
When a fault ruptures, it sends out two types of shock waves. Those that travel along the surface, called p-waves, are faster but weaker. S-waves, which radiate through the ground, take longer to arrive but can pack a huge punch.
The size of a quake can be determined based on the first 4 seconds of p-wave, said James Dolan of the Southern California Earthquake Center. “If you can figure out if it’s a big one right away, in the first seconds of the rupture, that’s where you can make a big difference,” he said.
An early warning system would use that p-wave analysis as a trigger to stop trains in their tracks, shut down power plants and send out public alerts in the crucial seconds before the stronger s-waves arrive.
Last March, Japan’s early warning system was activated within 9 seconds of the magnitude-9 quake that set off a devastating tsunami. Residents in Tokyo, 230 miles from the epicenter, had about 80 seconds to prepare for the jolt.
"The Quake-Catcher Network is a way to involve the public in scientific data collection in high-risk earthquake and aftershock zones in the United States and around the world, and to collect seismic data in non-traditional ways," Cochran said.
Cochran spent four years at UC Riverside before taking a job in June, 2011, with the USGS in Pasadena.
Cochran last year was named one of President Obama's recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
-- City News Service contributed to this report.