From Caltech: Women in STEM “What is it Like to be a Caltech Seismologist During a Big Quake?” Dr. Jennifer Andrews

Caltech Logo

From Caltech

July 18, 2019
Robert Perkins
(626) 395‑1862
rperkins@caltech.edu

When an earthquake strikes, seismologists at Caltech’s Seismological Laboratory spring into action.

2

1
Dr. Jennifer Andrews

An arm of Caltech’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS), the Seismo Lab is home to dozens of seismologists who collaborate with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to operate one of the largest seismic networks in the nation.Together, they analyze data to provide the public with information about where the quake occurred and how big it was. That information not only helps first responders, but feeds into the scientific understanding on earthquakes and when and where the next big quicks are likely to strike.

After the two largest Ridgecrest earthquakes on July 4 and 5 (Magnitude 6.4 and 7.1, respectively), Caltech staff seismologist Jen Andrews was part of the Seismo Lab team that rushed to respond. Recently, she described that experience.

Where were you when the earthquakes hit?

For Thursday’s quake, I was at home in my shower. I didn’t even realize at the time that it was a quake. But when I got out and looked at my computer, I saw the report. Then the phone rang, and it was Egill [Hauksson, research professor of geophysics at Caltech], saying it was time to go to work. It was all hands on deck.

For Friday’s quake, I was at the ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Downtown Los Angeles. They’d just finished act 1 and were in intermission, so fortunately no dancers were on stage to be knocked off their feet. I was in the balcony, so the movement I felt was probably amplified by the height (and also the soft sediment beneath Downtown). The chandeliers were swaying, but no one panicked. As soon as I felt it shake, I started counting. We felt it as a roll, so I knew the epicenter wasn’t right beneath us. Once I reached 20 seconds, I knew this was a big earthquake, even bigger than the first one. I immediately got in a taxi and headed straight to campus.

What did you do next?

Here at the Seismo Lab, it’s our responsibility to verify that all of the info we’re putting out about earthquakes—the locations and magnitudes, for example—are correct. We’re responsible for getting info about the origin out within two minutes of the shaking, so we have fully automated systems that send updates to the National Earthquake Information Center right away. All of that happens without anyone touching anything, before we can even get to our desks. But once we get there, we look at the waveforms and make sure that we’re correctly identifying the P and S waves. [During an earthquake, several types of seismic waves radiate out from the quake’s epicenter, including compressional waves (or P-waves), transverse waves (or S-waves), and surface waves.] We also know the speed at which seismic waves should travel, so we can use that to make sure that we’re correctly identifying where the quake originated. It turns out that the automatic systems did a brilliant job of getting most of the information correct.

What is it like to be in the Seismo Lab after a big earthquake?

It’s very busy. There’s a lot of people: seismologists, news reporters, even curious students and people who are on campus who just want to know what’s going on. Meanwhile, we have a lot of issues to deal with: we have seismologists on the phone with state representatives and others speaking to members of the press, while still others are trying to process data coming in from seismometers. Within a few hours of a quake, the USGS tries to figure out who’s going out to the location of the earthquake, and what equipment they’ll be taking. For the Ridgecrest quakes, they did flyovers in a helicopter looking for ruptures, and then sent people on the ground to measure the rupture. They then deployed additional seismometers so that we could get an even clearer picture of any aftershocks.

How long after the earthquake will things stay busy for you?

The media attention relaxes after a few hours or days, but I’m going to be looking at the data we gathered from these quakes for a long time. I was here every day over the holiday weekend and the following week working on it. It could take months or even years for our group to process all the data.

Do you learn more from big earthquakes like these than you do from little ones?

You learn different things. The data will be incorporated into earthquake hazard models, though likely will not make big changes. But these quakes in particular were interesting, as two perpendicular faults were involved. We can study the rupture dynamics, which you can’t resolve in smaller quakes. Also, having two strong quakes caused variations in fault slip and ground motion that will be important to study and understand.

See the full article here .

Earthquake Alert

1

Earthquake Alert

Earthquake Network projectEarthquake Network is a research project which aims at developing and maintaining a crowdsourced smartphone-based earthquake warning system at a global level. Smartphones made available by the population are used to detect the earthquake waves using the on-board accelerometers. When an earthquake is detected, an earthquake warning is issued in order to alert the population not yet reached by the damaging waves of the earthquake.

The project started on January 1, 2013 with the release of the homonymous Android application Earthquake Network. The author of the research project and developer of the smartphone application is Francesco Finazzi of the University of Bergamo, Italy.

Get the app in the Google Play store.

3
Smartphone network spatial distribution (green and red dots) on December 4, 2015

Meet The Quake-Catcher Network

QCN bloc

Quake-Catcher Network

The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
QCN Quake Catcher Network map

ShakeAlert: An Earthquake Early Warning System for the West Coast of the United States

The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with a coalition of State and university partners is developing and testing an earthquake early warning (EEW) system called ShakeAlert for the west coast of the United States. Long term funding must be secured before the system can begin sending general public notifications, however, some limited pilot projects are active and more are being developed. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018.

Watch a video describing how ShakeAlert works in English or Spanish.

The primary project partners include:

United States Geological Survey
California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES)
California Geological Survey
California Institute of Technology
University of California Berkeley
University of Washington
University of Oregon
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

The Earthquake Threat

Earthquakes pose a national challenge because more than 143 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 39 states. Most of our Nation’s earthquake risk is concentrated on the West Coast of the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated the average annualized loss from earthquakes, nationwide, to be $5.3 billion, with 77 percent of that figure ($4.1 billion) coming from California, Washington, and Oregon, and 66 percent ($3.5 billion) from California alone. In the next 30 years, California has a 99.7 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake and the Pacific Northwest has a 10 percent chance of a magnitude 8 to 9 megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

Part of the Solution

Today, the technology exists to detect earthquakes, so quickly, that an alert can reach some areas before strong shaking arrives. The purpose of the ShakeAlert system is to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way. This can be done by detecting the first energy to radiate from an earthquake, the P-wave energy, which rarely causes damage. Using P-wave information, we first estimate the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. Then, the anticipated ground shaking across the region to be affected is estimated and a warning is provided to local populations. The method can provide warning before the S-wave arrives, bringing the strong shaking that usually causes most of the damage.

Studies of earthquake early warning methods in California have shown that the warning time would range from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds. ShakeAlert can give enough time to slow trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, to move away from dangerous machines or chemicals in work environments and to take cover under a desk, or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems. Taking such actions before shaking starts can reduce damage and casualties during an earthquake. It can also prevent cascading failures in the aftermath of an event. For example, isolating utilities before shaking starts can reduce the number of fire initiations.

System Goal

The USGS will issue public warnings of potentially damaging earthquakes and provide warning parameter data to government agencies and private users on a region-by-region basis, as soon as the ShakeAlert system, its products, and its parametric data meet minimum quality and reliability standards in those geographic regions. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018. Product availability will expand geographically via ANSS regional seismic networks, such that ShakeAlert products and warnings become available for all regions with dense seismic instrumentation.

Current Status

The West Coast ShakeAlert system is being developed by expanding and upgrading the infrastructure of regional seismic networks that are part of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS); the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) is made up of the Southern California Seismic Network, SCSN) and the Northern California Seismic System, NCSS and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN). This enables the USGS and ANSS to leverage their substantial investment in sensor networks, data telemetry systems, data processing centers, and software for earthquake monitoring activities residing in these network centers. The ShakeAlert system has been sending live alerts to “beta” users in California since January of 2012 and in the Pacific Northwest since February of 2015.

In February of 2016 the USGS, along with its partners, rolled-out the next-generation ShakeAlert early warning test system in California joined by Oregon and Washington in April 2017. This West Coast-wide “production prototype” has been designed for redundant, reliable operations. The system includes geographically distributed servers, and allows for automatic fail-over if connection is lost.

This next-generation system will not yet support public warnings but does allow selected early adopters to develop and deploy pilot implementations that take protective actions triggered by the ShakeAlert notifications in areas with sufficient sensor coverage.

Authorities

The USGS will develop and operate the ShakeAlert system, and issue public notifications under collaborative authorities with FEMA, as part of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, as enacted by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7704 SEC. 2.

For More Information

Robert de Groot, ShakeAlert National Coordinator for Communication, Education, and Outreach
rdegroot@usgs.gov
626-583-7225

Learn more about EEW Research

ShakeAlert Fact Sheet

ShakeAlert Implementation Plan


five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings
Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition

The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

Caltech campus