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New App Turns Smartphones into Earthquake Warning Systems

Even if your name isn’t Richter, you can now become a human seismograph and use your smartphone to warn the world when the big one is coming. The new MyShake app, that registers earth movement, just became available in the Google Play Store. It will be available for iPhone at a later date.

Developed by scientists at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at the University, MyShake uses the accelerometer already in the smartphone, analyzes it and, if it fits the profile of an earthquake, relays the information to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory for analysis. The scientists can then issue a public warning.

Seismograph

Seismograph

The goal is to create a worldwide seismic detection network to warn people miles from the epicenter that an earthquake is on its way. The phone’s accelerometer can record shaking any time during the day and night and the app’s algorithm can differentiate walking, dancing and other activities from an earthquake tremor. The app runs in the background using little or no power.

Richard Allen, the leader of the MyShake project is director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and a professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Science says,

MyShake cannot replace traditional seismic networks like those run by the U.S. Geographical Survey, U.C. Berkeley, the University of Washington and Caltech, but we think MyShake can make earthquake early warning faster and more accurate in areas that have a traditional seismic network, and can provide life-saving early warning in countries that have no seismic network.

MyShake is less sensitive than in-ground seismometers but are sensitive enough to record quakes above a magnitude-5 within 10 kilometers.

The study, shake-table test and findings were published in Science Advances journal.

Cell phones prepared for 3-dimensional shake-table test

Cell phones prepared for 3-dimensional shake-table test

Qingkai Kong, a Berkeley graduate student, who developed the algorithm at the heart of the app says,

We need at least 300 smartphones within a 110-kilometer-by-110-kilometer area in order to have a reasonable estimate of location, magnitude, and origin time of the earthquake. The denser the network, the earlier you can detect the “The Big One” earthquake.

There’s a whole lot of shaking going on in California.