Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Did You Feel That Earthquake?

Last summer we talked about the Quake-Catcher Network.  Stanford scientists developed cheap, computer-based seismometers people can use to measure earthquakes at home.  For less than $50 anyone can order one and set it up to constantly record the motion of the Earth.  Although professional seismometers exist in laboratories across the country, there are expensive and not always where earthquakes hit.  The quake catcher network supplements those sites with thousands of home-versions to better record each earthquake and provide data on how the quake moves across through the Earth.

As you probably remember from goelogy class, seismometers record quakes using the Richter scale to measure magnitude.  While that accurately records the energy of each quake it doesn't record the sensation or damage caused by one.  That's where the less-famous Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale comes in...it records information like whether the tremor caused cracks in your walls, whether objects fell off shelves, whether the building shifted, etc..  This is the data "Did You Feel It" provides.

The "Did You Feel It" project is run by the U.S. Geographical Survey and records information from across the world.  No special training or pre-registration is involved.  All they ask is to visit their web site when a quake hits, add some information on who you are and how the earthquake felt, and click submit.  In mnay ways this is one of the most passive of citizen science project types...an observational measurement type that doesn't require regular observation.  Just record things if and when you feel them.

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Wait for an earthquake to hit.  Hopefully that won't be for a long time, but the point is you don't have to do anything.  Just wait for an event to occur.
  2. Once you feel the earthquake visit the Did You Feel It web site.  You'll see a U.S. map and table of all the earthquakes recorded over the last week (see screenshot below).    Each includes time and date, so find the one you think you felt.
  3. After identfiying the quake you will be linked to a close-up of the quake area.  Click on "Did You Feel It? - Tell Us" to provide your address and zip code.  Click "Continue".
  4. Now you are asked about your experience in the quake.  This is where you answer questions about potential damage, shaking strength (weak to violent), whether you were asleep, whether others noticed it, and similar questions.
  5. Finally, you are asked to provide contact information (optional) and additional comments. That's all there is to it.
Screenshot Courtesy: OpenScientist.org and the U.S. Geological Survey
Hopefully your area will stay safe from earthquakes and you won't need to use this site.  But if you do experience one, please visit the USGS web site and tell tehm about your experience.  The information is not just scientifically valuable, it also helps local governments respond to the quake and helps ensure your town get's the help it needs.   So everyone will thank you in the end.


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  3. When I recall that earthquake, I feel little terror, but it didn't harm anything, which was a good news.

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