Tuesday, 16 July 2024

Earthquake early warning system could soon be feasible; stimulus funds used for equipment upgrades

SAN FRANCISCO – An earthquake early warning system for California is feasible in coming years, according to research presented earlier this month at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

The ongoing study demonstrates that an earthquake early warning system for earthquake-prone California is possible and lays out how such a system could be built, according to the US Geological Survey.

Earthquake early warning systems, already successfully deployed in Mexico, Japan and Taiwan, can detect an earthquake in progress and provide notice of seconds to tens of seconds prior to actual ground shaking.

Building on developments in other countries with significant earthquake risk, scientists are exploring early warning in the United States.

After a three-year earthquake early warning study funded by the US Geological Survey was completed in August 2009, a second project funded by the agency was launched to integrate the previously tested methods into a single prototype warning system.

When completed, this pilot system, called the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) ShakeAlert System, will provide warning to a small group of test users, including emergency response groups, utilities, and transportation agencies.

While in the testing phase, the system will not provide public alerts, the US Geological Survey reported.

The CISN ShakeAlert system will detect strong shaking at an earthquake's epicenter and transmit alerts ahead of the damaging earthquake waves. The speed of an electronic warning message is faster than the speed of earthquake waves traveling through the earth.

Potential applications include stopping elevators at the nearest floor, slowing or halting trains, monitoring critical systems, and alerting people to move to safer locations. In warning systems deployed abroad, alerts are distributed via TV and radio networks, the Internet, cell phones and pagers.

The earthquake early warning test uses real-time data from the CISN, which is part of the US Geological Survey's Advanced National Seismic System, through which the agency aims to broadly improve earthquake monitoring and reporting in the United States. Funding for the CISN is provided by the US Geological Survey and the state of California.

The study is a collaboration among the USGS, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California-Berkeley, the Swiss Seismological Service and the Southern California Earthquake Center.

In the next two years American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funding will be used to upgrade many of the older, slower seismic instruments throughout the CISN. These older instruments introduce time delays and would slow down early warning alerts.

Earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said that the US Geological Survey would fund $29.4 million in earthquake network upgrades nationwide through stimulus money.

The upgrades are expected to improve the timely delivery of information to high-hazard regions such as the Bay Area.

The US Geological Survey will replace old instruments – some of which have not been upgraded in 40 years – with state-of-the-art, robust systems across the highest earthquake hazard areas in California, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Intermountain West, and the Central and Eastern United States.

Salazar said nearly 75 million Americans live within earthquake prone areas.

Statewide, California has more than a 99 percent chance of having a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake within the next 30 years, according to scientists using a new model to determine the probability of big quakes, officials reported. In the Bay area specifically, there is a nearly two out of three chance of an earthquake of that magnitude in that time period.

The funds will be used to upgrade the seismic and geodetic stations that monitor earthquakes; improve communication systems to make them more robust and reliable; lay the groundwork to enable earthquake early warning; support students at universities in California who will be involved in the installation, providing a unique educational experience and helping to train the next generation of earthquake scientists; and help save jobs that are threatened by cuts in state funding in California.

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