Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Quake Catcher Network

Thanks to Julian over at Harmonic Tremors whose post about last Tuesday's M5.4 earthquake brought the Quake-Catcher Network to my attention again (I originally read about it on Geology News and Highly Allochthonous earlier this year, but did not have time to blog about it).

The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative run jointly by Stanford and UC Riverside that aims to use acceleration detectors present in most modern laptops to form a low-cost strong motion seismic network.

Laptop users can download a client program that sits and monitors the motion of their laptops, sending information to the Network when any strong signals are detected. If strong signals are detected by many nearby laptops at the same time, the Network knows an earthquake is happening.

Laptops continuously move with the people who use them. So how does the Quake Catcher Network know where the laptop is? Users can give precise locations (using a GoogleMaps widget) of where they use their laptops most often. To choose between these locations, and also to deal approximately with undefined locations, the Network uses the laptop's current IP address. Nifty!!

As correct time is essential for earthquake location (just ask any observational seismologist or seismic network manager), the Network also checks the laptop's clock to make sure it is on time.

I have just signed up as a Quake-Catcher laptop client. The sign up procedure is completely painless (at least it was on my mac). Quake-Catcher uses a system called BOINC to interact with your computer. This is the same system used by other distributed computing projects you may have heard about, such as SETI@home or LHC@home.

Quake-Catcher aims to become a global strong-motion network, but it can only do so with your help. The more laptops connect to the system, the better. The accuracy of Quake-Catcher detections depends on the number of users located in any given region, so if you want your contribution to Quake-Catcher to be really useful, you should urge your friends, families and colleagues to sign up.


Silver Fox said...

My ISP assigns a new IP number everytime I log on, though I guess if I stayed logged on to catch an earthquake, that wouldn't be so much of a problem! Also, it says I'm at a way incorrect location, so I'd just have to let them know the correct location that goes with the IP address.

Thanks for the post: it's gotten me to thinking about this again, although I'm not usually in an area that would register an earthquake, you never know.

Alessia Maggi said...

The location they get from my dynamic IP address is wrong also. I have given them the correct location. My guess is they associate the first two or three numbers of the IP address with the location you give them, assuming that your ISP always gives you an IP within a small range of subnetworks.

scatterhaiku said...

quite an interesting use of laptop accelerometers and the boinc system. :) distributed detection, earthquake style. :) hope they work out the kinks, improve the system.

Julian said...

Oh, they have signups open to people that are not at UCR or Stanford now? That's fantastic!

I also had the IP problem Silver Fox mentioned, though I solved it by deleting the "default" (which was somewhere in downtown Los Angeles) and manually setting it to my exact street location. Before I deleted the default, I had to reset the location every day, but it's fine now; it doesn't try to reprogram that LA location.

Jim Lindsey said...

We have a seismometer station at our school, maintained by an after-school club. Is there a way we can get the ip address of the Antarctica Concordia station?

Alessia Maggi said...

Hi Jim. I'm afraid the station at Concordia does not have a routable IP address.

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