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Bumps in the night

Anyone can help contribute to early warning systems for earthquakes with only the use of a USB stick, a modern laptop, smart phone, or even a Nintendo Wii controller though a volunteer computing project called the Quake Catcher Network (QCN). The chief software architect of QCN, Carl Christensen, and project leader, Elizabeth Cochran, presented their volunteer computing project at the Asia@home Hackfest in Taipei in March 2011.

The project uses small remote sensors, MEMs (micro-electromechanical-systems) that contain accelerometers, which measure the acceleration or change of velocity of a device in a specific space and are found in many modern devices. MEMs are used as basic sensors to detect ground tremors and are essential in early detection of earthquakes, magnitude assessment and tracking propagation of seismic waves.

The below view is a night-time display of the QCN. Purple lines are fault lines and the red spots are areas that have suffered earthquakes.

With enough sensors in an area, an earthquake early warning system can also be set-up. Each MEM sensor on the Quake Catcher Network is not of the highest quality (10 or 12 bits), but what they lack in sensitivity, they make up for in simplicity. They are very easy to set-up. With enough MEMs in a given area - around 300 - they can function as one large high-resolution seismic detector. Volunteers can have MEMs attached to their laptops via USB sticks or place sensors independently in a specific area.

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