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App Changes Earthquake Detection

MyShake App successfully detects earthquakes around the world. MyShake App successfully detects earthquakes around the world.

The University of California, Berkeley’s network of smartphone earthquake detectors has recorded nearly 400 earthquakes since the MyShake app was made available for download in February, Eureka News reports.

The Android app harnesses a smartphone’s motion detectors to measure earthquake ground motion, then sends that data back to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory for analysis.

The eventual goal is to send early-warning alerts to users a bit farther from ground zero, giving them seconds to a minute of warning that the ground will start shaking. That’s enough time to take cover or switch off equipment that might be damaged in a quake.

To date, nearly 220,000 people have downloaded the app, and at any one time, between 8,000 and 10,000 phones are active -- turned on, lying on a horizontal surface and connected to a wi-fi network - and thus primed to respond.

Ten months of operation clearly shows that the sensitivity of the smartphone accelerometers and the density of phones in many places are sufficient to provide data quickly enough for early warning.

The phones readily detect the first seismic waves to arrive - the less destructive P waves - and send the information to Berkeley in time to issue an alert that the stronger S wave will soon arrive.

The app can detect quakes as small as magnitude 2.5, with the best sensitivity in areas with a greater density of phones. The largest number of phones to record a quake was 103, after the 5.2 magnitude quake that occurred on the San Jacinto fault near Borrego Springs in San Diego County on June 10. Phones 200 kilometers from the epicenter detected that temblor.

The largest quake detected occurred on April 16 in Ecuador: a 7.8 magnitude quake that triggered two phones, 170 and 200 kilometers from the epicenter.

The app has detected quakes in seismically active areas such as Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan and the West Coast of the US, however looking at the website it has not been used in Iran yet.

The app could be useful for the Islamic Republic as it would forewarn people about earthquakes in the vast country of 80 million people.

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