NASA looks to space for better earthquake data

A space-based earthquake detection system will soon be providing scientists and first responders with accurate and precise real-time data about the location and intensity of a seismic event.

The prototype system, which NASA is testing on the West Coast, uses satellites to monitor ground-based Global Positioning System sensors for minute changes in their location.

The Real-time Earthquake Analysis for Disaster (READI) Mitigation Network uses GPS data streamed in from about 500 ground stations across California, Oregon and Washington.

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When a major earthquake occurs, the GPS data is used to automatically calculate its location, magnitude and other geological details, NASA said in a release announcing the project.

READI is based on decades of research by the National Science Foundation, the Defense Department, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Conventional seismic networks have had difficulty in pinpointing the true size of the major earthquakes of the past decade, Timothy Melbourne, director of Central Washington University’s Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array, said in a statement. “This GPS system is more likely to provide accurate and rapid estimates of the location and amount of fault slip to fire, utility, medical and other first responder teams,” he said.

Rapidly identifying and locating earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and higher is vital for first response and disaster mitigation efforts, especially when there is the possibility of a tsunami, NASA said. Precise, by-the-second measurements of ground displacement with GPS-based sensors has been demonstrated to reduce the time needed to verify the scale and location of a large earthquake and to increase the accuracy of tsunami predictions.

After the READI network’s capabilities have been fully tested and demonstrated, it will be handed over to federal natural disaster monitoring agencies such as the USGS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A number of institutions are collaborating to support and operate the READI network. They include Scripps at the University of California in San Diego; Central Washington University in Ellensburg; the University of Nevada in Reno; California Institute of Technology/Jet Propulsion in Pasadena; UNAVCO in Boulder, Colo.; and the University of California at Berkeley.

The GPS stations in the network are supported by NASA, NSF, USGS and other federal, state and local organizations.



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