Stanford-based group develops earthquake warning system

March 8, 2012, 2:00 a.m.

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Jesse Lawrence as Jesse Mitchell.


Quake-Catcher Network, a Stanford-based group, has developed a network of seismic sensors capable of giving subscribers advance warning of imminent earthquakes. The network detected Monday morning’s 4.0 magnitude earthquake 10 seconds before it hit Stanford.


The network employs around 2,000 inexpensive seismic sensors plugged into volunteers’ computers, which communicate with Stanford servers over the Internet. The system has the ability to warn customers electronically — by means such as text message or email — as far ahead as tens of seconds before the strongest shaking occurs, allowing them to take cover.


Corporate clients can also use this warning system, allowing firms to save documents, turn off sensitive equipment or stop elevators at the nearest floor to allow passengers to escape. Subscribers would also receive a post-earthquake notification noting the tremor’s magnitude and duration.


“The concept is ultimately to get to the place where we can reliably identify and characterize earthquakes before they’ve expanded to the surrounding regions,” said Jesse Lawrence, network co-founder and assistant geophysics professor, to the Stanford News Service.


Quake-Catcher Network’s seismic sensors range from $30 to $150 in cost — as compared to traditional prices upwards of $3,000 — allowing the group to create a larger network and thus enjoy greater accuracy and detection rates while covering a larger area.


“There’s an amazing amount of science that one can do with lots and lots of sensors, science that’s much harder to do when you have fewer sensors,” Mitchell said.


— Marshall Watkins

Login or create an account