It took almost two years to Elizabeth Cochran to achieve acceptance of her innovative idea of monitoring earthquakes. It was in the year 2006 when Elizabeth Cochran, a Seismologist and Assistance Professor in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Riverside first conceptualized the idea of an interlinked computers, the “Quake-Catcher-Network”. Scientists across the world have started accepting the potential of this initiative to save millions of lives at risk during an earthquake.
This innovative concept is based on involving everyone by simply using their laptop computers. Every such laptop would be part of a giant international network of computers which will be specifically designed for measuring dense earthquake related data. This will help in monitoring earthquakes.
Specific software for linking all the computers is almost ready and would be publicly released during this summer only. It will be completely free software for everyone. Elizabeth Cochran with her colleagues Jesse Lawrence at the Stanford University, and Carl Christensen, a software architect has jointly developed this software. It will be an extra-ordinary opportunity for everyone who owns a laptop computer.
When publicly released for open participation, this software would be easily accessible at the website BIONC. Elizabeth Cochran and her colleagues have planned to test the software further prior to its public release. At present this software is available on BIONC with a very limited release exclusively for some specific purposes and other scientific explorations among the selected testers and users.
The “Quake-Catcher-Network” project costs almost nothing to the team of scientists. The whole idea is based upon motion sensors known as the ‘accelerometers’. These accelerometers are extensively used in the present day laptop computers as popular safety devices. Almost every laptop computer has such tiny devices in place already. It is really an inexpensive device and therefore it saves a lot of money to the scientists as well.
The “Quake-Catcher-Network” project revolves around an innovative technique of “distributed computing”. It is a specific methodology which facilitates different parts of a computer program to run concurrently on two or even more computers at the same time. All such type of linked computers would be in communication with the help of a dedicated central server over a specifically designed network.
The “Quake-Catcher-Network” project will use the laptops as the earthquake monitors in very simple terms. A network thus created and established will have a dense grid of local detectors all around the earth. As soon as an earthquake strikes, an early warning will be signaled through the interconnected network with the help of internet connections within a time of just 15-20 seconds. All the neighboring cities and other areas would thus be enabled to initiate safeguard measures well in time. The early warnings will be initiated with the initiation of earliest feeble tremors or the seismic waves.”We are turning laptop accelerometers in to earthquake monitors”, says Elizabeth Cochran.
The project has started taking shape already and nearly 300 people situated in the different part of the world are already actively participating in the “Quake-Catcher-Network” project. Once the project is launched publicly during this summer the level of participation is expected to grow exponentially.
Presently applicable earthquake reporting techniques and methods have several gaps which act as potential barriers in correct forecasting and establishing an earliest possible warning system. This innovative project will hopefully fill in the gaps and spaces existing in the current seismic network spread across the globe. The numbers of reporting seismic stations are extremely lower than what is required.”With the public’s participation in the ‘quake-catcher-network’ we can have a lot more stations recording earthquakes, allowing for a better early warning system”, expects Elizabeth Cochran.
There are many places around the world where no such type of early warning system exists in place and this often results in heavy damage and devastations of human lives and assets. For instance, in the Southern California alone, there is not more than 350 such type of early earthquake warning systems. All these systems are based on analyzing underground sensors data. This methodology is not much effective as it often gets late in reporting and by the time no sufficient time left for initiating safety preparedness measures. The situation is even worse than this in other parts of the globe and there are many belts and zones where no such system has been established at all.
The “Quake -Catcher-Network” would make it possible to process the data well in time exactly within seconds of its arrival. Major advantage of this network is its power of stretching to any part and region of the world because it is primarily based on just two things, the laptop computer and an internet connection. It is almost inexpensive and therefore users will never hesitate in participating and it also does not require any CPU resource, hence more portable.
Elizabeth Cochran explains this in more simple way. She says that a laptop usually remains inactive for at least three minutes before the system starts up.”This is to get rid of any noise in the data and to ensure that any movement the laptop’s accelerometer is detecting is indeed out of the ordinary”, she says. Present sets of working parameters are more favorable for the Apple laptops and therefore in the beginning only these laptops have been considered to be invited to participate in the project. Elizabeth Cochran and her expert research scientist’s team are also working on to include all other types of computers and laptops in the “Quake-Catcher-Network”.
Efforts are also on for developing an accelerometer that could be plugged in to a desktop or a laptop exactly in the way as a normal USB flash drive. This system and facilitation will in turn provide an advantage of having less interference from typing on the keyboard. This facility in place would also enable “creating a more robust and reliable system which can use the computers running the software all of the time”, says Cochran. Data thus collected would be freely available for all other scientific research publicly also.
On the basis of such collected data it would be far easier to study the nature of propagation of seismic waves in the ground. Travelling velocity of seismic waves provides useful information and interpretation pertaining to possible seismic hazards and other devastation effects as well as understanding the structure and behavior of the earth.” The denser our network, the clearer will be the picture of what is happening at each step in time”, says Cochran.
A series of data interpretation, analysis, and representation could easily be converted in to a movie type with the help of numerous participating computers around the world. This movie will clearly show the propagation of seismic waves underground all across its path of travel within the earth subsurface. This would certainly prove as an effective method of studying seismic wave’s behavior and their probable impacts on the ground.
Elizabeth Cochran is also planning to include school children as participant in this project. “We think this would be an excellent project for students to take an interest in,” she said, “so we’re hoping we’ll see more of their participation”.