How to Detect Earthquakes From Your Desk

A SETI-like network of laptops can trump seismometers
By Katherine Thompson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2008 6:11 AM CDT
A seismologist studies the segment of the North Anatolian Fault that produced a magnitude 7.4 earthquake in 1999.   (Magnum Photos)
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(Newser) – Seismologists have found a way to harness the power of a built-in feature of many laptops and create a new wide-ranging earthquake-detection system, the Economist reports. The "Quake-Catcher Network" capitalizes on laptops' accelerometers, little devices that detect when the computer is falling or shaken, to provide widespread—and highly sensitive—recordings of the earth's vibrations.

The system, which has already detected quakes in California and Nevada, has three major benefits over traditional seismometers. Not only can the laptop network be much more extensive than one of expensive geological instruments, it can also record more detailed information. But the big coup would be to catch quakes fast enough at their epicenters to send warnings to surrounding areas.