Anyone With a Computer Might Be an Earthquake Scientist

April 16, 2008

Early news about a pending citizen science project has drawn such an overwhelming response that the project's leaders are now declining to talk about it further until its formal launch, potentially in July 2008. The public response suggests it'll be of great interest to some in your audience when it becomes official. Meanwhile, you can learn more online, and get on the notification list for the launch date.

The project is called the "Quake-Catcher Network." It will allow people all over the globe to act as real-time sentinels for earthquakes. The goal is to create a dense network of on-the-ground monitors that can provide 10-20 more seconds of advance notice - giving people time to take a few precautionary measures - and allow better tracking of the earth's movement as a quake progresses.

At the moment, there is a 10-20 second delay before detected quake activity is received by a monitoring station and processed by officials. The QCN is trying to eliminate that delay by taking advantage of motion sensors, called accelerometers, built in to certain laptop computers made in 2005 or later. Software is used to link those motion sensors to a central server, in a process called distributed computing.

So far, the motion sensors are in just laptops made by Apple. The project developers are working on techniques to make the same device available on other laptops, as well as desktops.

About 300 people around the globe, including about 100 in the US, are helping with initial development of the system.

This project is connected with the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), which may be a source for other "citizen science" stories.