Monday, August 29, 2011

Citizen Sci-esmology in the News!

Image Couresy: 
Iván Martínez / Wikimedia Commons
It's been a big week here on the East Coast with hurricanes, locusts, and even an earthquake.  Well, maybe not locusts, but I wouldn't be surprised by anything at this point.  There's been a lot of destruction in a very short period of time.

But with all things there is silver lining, and when it comes to Earth Science these events always bring us more data to predict and prevent future damage.  It's also a valuable chance for everyday people to interact with nature.  This is especially true for Carolyn McPherson.  She's a citizen scientist whose earthquake-detecting seismometer was the closest to capture data on last Tuesday's DC-area earthquake.

There's a fine article in today's Washington Post ("Earthquake Brought Seismometer of 'Citizen Scientist' to life in Charlottesville") that tells her story quite nicely.  Her husband purchased her a $50 seismometer from Stanford University's Quake-Catcher Network for Christmas, and after months of sitting silent she finally got a nice strong reading when the quake struck.  In fact she was the closest person to the epicenter and was able to send all her data for the project scientists to analyze.

The Network is in the midst of sending out 5,000 mini-seismometers to schools and individuals across the country, with people in certain quake-prone areas receiving them for free.  Scientists hope this network will provide much more detailed data than the current network of highly sensitive $100,000 sensors.  One hope is continued development of micro-zoning theory.  As described in the article:

“If we have more sensors, we can, in theory, detect earthquakes and characterize them before they hit surrounding areas,” said Jesse Lawrence, a Stanford seismologist who helps lead the Quake-Catcher Network.

Lawrence hopes the project will eventually help first responders in a huge, damaging quake by directing them toward places prone to more-severe shaking. As the sensor network records smaller quakes, it can slowly sketch a picture of more-vulnerable areas.
Seismologists have just begun to get a handle on this phenomenon, called micro-zoning, said Elizabeth Cochran, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif. Variations in the geology underlying a region can shake one building severely while another just a few miles away experiences far less movement.

“You could potentially use the information to know which areas of the ground will shake,” said Cochran, who dreamed up the network in 2006.

This is the first I've heard of the Quake-Catcher Network but rest assured I'll do a much longer piece on it in the near future.  Until then I hope this article provides a little inspiration to all of you and reminds us that every person's data counts...especially when you're in the right place at the right time.