Researchers Test Smartphones for Earthquake Warning

Researchers Test Smartphones for Earthquake Warning image
August 4, 2015 | Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large earthquakes, according to newly reported research. This technology could serve regions of the world that cannot afford higher quality, but more expensive, conventional earthquake early warning systems, or could contribute to those systems.

The study, led by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 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, the GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers in a smartphone can detect the permanent ground movement (displacement) caused by fault motion in a large earthquake. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, was a participant in the study, published April 10 in the new journal Science Advances from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Using crowdsourced observations from participating users' smartphones, scientists could detect and analyze earthquakes, and transmit customized earthquake warnings back to them and other users. "Crowdsourced alerting means that the community will benefit by data generated by the community," said Sarah Minson, USGS geophysicist and lead author of the study. Minson was a post-doctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena while working on this study.