With the reports coming in from Nepal regarding the devastating 7.9 Richter scale quake and the damage it has brought to the poor nation, the limited technology of Early Earthquake Warning has come under scrutiny once more due to its high cost and the training required. The monitoring of seismic plates and their shifting nature is a very complex phenomenon to observe, but recently scientists have come up with a use of meta-data from the smartphones that can provide reasonable Early Earthquake Warning at an affordable cost.
This research was carried out by a United States Geological survey. According to this survey, a network of smartphones can replace the seismographs to a large extent. Using this data, the nearby areas of the point of origin can be notified when the earthquake hits. This early notification can give them precious seconds to save their lives as there are many ways to do so. By analyzing the data of earthquakes with the help of a Google Nexus 5, the study came to know that the GPS systems of the phones are very advanced. They have the ability to detect a slight change in the location of the user. This is useful for detecting earthquakes.
The current system relies on measuring the tremors, calculating the intensity and finding the location of the origin instantaneously. This method is very expensive and cannot be afforded by poorer countries like Nepal, India, etc over the entirety of their land. This new system, however, can be managed by these nations.
In the millions of smartphones present in a locality, a few thousand can do the sensing part. They can detect a magnitude of 7 or higher with the current GPS technology, the scientists claim. Seven is a strong Earthquake intensity capable enough to raze weak structures and cause Tsunami in the coastal areas. If successful, this system of phones could be used to a great effect.
The trick with this tech is that the random movements of the smartphone need to be distinguished from the Earthquake tremors. This was resolved by collecting the metadata and registering an Earthquake only if 100 or so phones start sending these distress signals. The cost on this project is essentially zero as people often change their mobiles within 2 years. A pretty cool idea, isn’t it?