Researchers have developed an app that can turn smartphones into a
worldwide seismic network that could eventually warn users of impending
jolts from a nearby earthquake.
With the help of a smartphone's
accelerometer - the motion-detection instrument - the app, called
MyShake taps a phone's ability to record ground shaking from an
The android app, which can be downloaded from Google
Play Store, runs in the background with little power, so that a phone's
onboard accelerometers can record local shaking any time of the day or
For now, the app only collects information from the
accelerometers, analyses it and, if it fits the vibrational profile of a
quake, relays it and the phone's GPS coordinates to the Berkeley
Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, for
However, once enough people are using it, the
seismologists plan to use the data to warn people miles from ground zero
that shaking is rumbling their way.
"MyShake cannot replace
traditional seismic networks like those run by the US Geological Survey,
UC 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,"
said the leader of the app project Richard Allen from the University of
A crowd-sourced seismic network may be the
only option today for many earthquake-prone developing countries, such
as Nepal or Peru, that have a sparse or no ground-based seismic network
or early warning system, but do have millions of smartphone users.
my opinion, this is cutting-edge research that will transform
seismology," UC Berkeley graduate student Qingkai Kong, who developed
the algorithm at the heart of the app, said.
easily measure movement caused by a quake because they have three
built-in accelerometers designed to sense the orientation of the phone
for display or gaming.
While constantly improving in sensitivity
for the benefit of gamers, however, smartphone accelerometers are far
less sensitive than in-ground seismometers.
But they are sensitive enough to record earthquakes above a magnitude 5 -- the ones that do damage -- within 10 kilometres.
what these accelerometers lack in sensitivity, they make up for in
ubiquity. There are an estimated one billion smartphones worldwide, the
In a paper published in the journal Science
Advances, the researchers described the algorithm in the mobile app that
analyses a phone's accelerometer data and distinguishes earthquake
shaking from normal vibrations, such as walking, dancing or dropping the
In simulated tests, the algorithm that the researchers
developed successfully distinguished quakes from non-quakes 93 percent
of the time.