Quakefinder Blog

Moore Foundation gives big grant for earthquake warning

It is tempting to begin by saying “what good is a few minutes warning?” when reacting to the news that millions of dollars has been granted to researchers at Berkeley, Cal Tech, and the University of Washington to work on a system that gives notice that the ground has already started shaking. After all, if you’re near the epicenter of the quake when these alerts go out, you’re not going to have time to do much beyond dive under your desk. If you’re farther away, you get more warning (measured in seconds) but you might not really need to do anything. Still, any kind of warning at all is worth having. Anecdotally, this kind of system showed its worth in Japan last March when warnings of the Sendai mega-quake were used to shut down trains and other critical systems, although hard data on savings are difficult to come by. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the anticipated cost of such a system on the US west coast is $150,000,000. That’s a lot to pay for a few seconds warning! In contrast, the approach that QuakeFinder is researching could give us forecasts days before potential earthquakes. We have a long way to go before we really understand how well this will work – how accurate the forecasts can be, will we get a lot of false alarms, can we really forecast the magnitude, etc. But the cost to continue and expand this research is comparatively modest. QuakeFinder’s five-year goal is to capture and analyze signals related to three more earthquakes. The way to increase the likelihood of analyzing more quakes is to install instruments at 100 addition sites each year. To do this, we need to raise about $1,000,000/year in addition to the sponsorship we receive from Stellar Solutions – just a fraction of the money going into the ultra-short-term alert system.

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