Smartphones to Improve Earthquake Detection
A storefront on Victoria Street collapsed after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand in September 2010.
April 19, 2012 --
Forty years ago this week, the crew of Apollo 16 captured this image of Earth rising above the lunar landscape. The Apollo missions enabled humanity to see for the first time our planet as it appears from space. As Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell once said: “When I was orbiting the moon and could put my thumb up to the window and completely cover the Earth, I felt a real sense of my own insignificance. Everything I'd ever known could be hidden behind my thumb.” As we approach Earth Day on April 22, we look at the efforts of people throughout the ages to explore, understand and portray our world and its place in the Universe.
Trustees of the British Museum (image rotated
Babylonia Believed to be the earliest known representation of Earth, this stone tablet from Babylon shows the world as a disc, surrounded by a ring of water called the "Bitter River." The world is dominated by the area surrounding Babylon itself, and the Euphrates River bisects most of the inner circle. Unearthed in southern Iraq in the late 1800s, the tablet is housed in the British Museum.
Sixteenth-century interpretation of Ptolemy's
Celestial Spheres In his 2nd century treatise, the "Almagest," Claudius Ptolemy proposed an explanation for the apparent movement of stars and planets, in which Earth was central and immovable, and surrounded by, at progressively greater distances, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and a sphere of ‘fixed stars.’ This geocentric view of the cosmos did not meet its first real challenge until Copernicus proposed that the planets revolved around the Sun, and Galileo used his telescope to observe the phases of Venus.
Library of Congress, via the History Blog
Flat Earth The Greek philosopher Aristotle determined that Earth was spherical and not flat almost 2,500 years ago. The notion of a flat earth retained at least a few die-hard devotees for a surprisingly long time. For example, this 1893 map by Orlando Ferguson, recently acquired by the Library of Congress, cites “Scripture that condemns the globe theory” and promotes a book that “knocks the globe theory clean out.”
ANALYSIS: What if Earth Were a Cube?
De Costa, B.F. (September 1879). "The Lenox G
Lenox Globe It is popularly believed that ancient cartographers filled in unknown and unexplored areas of the world with the phrase ‘Here be dragons’. In fact, only one known ancient map – the so-called Lenox Globe, which is believed to date to around 1510 - displays the phrase ‘HC SVNT DRACONES’, from the Latin “hic sunt dracones.” (The phrase is written near the equator on the eastern cost of Asia.) Some nineteenth-century writers, however, believed that it referred, not to dragons, but to the ‘Dagroians’, a people who “feasted upon the dead and picked their bones.”
PHOTOS: Sea Monsters Real & Imagined
Image Database of the Kano Collection, Tohoku
Terra Australis Incognita In this copy of a 1602 map that was created on behalf of China’s Wanli emperor by Italian Matteo Ricci and collaborators, the familiar outlines of most of the world’s continents are coming into shape, although obviously many details remain unfinished. To the map’s makers, however, the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica are not even figments of the imagination, replaced instead by an enormous southern landmass. The notion of an unknown southern land – a terra australis incognita - was first mooted by Aristotle in 322 BCE; not until 1820 did Fabian von Bellingshausen become the first man to see the Antarctic continent.
South Pole For centuries, gaps in maps were filled by explorers who set out across land and sea, often at immense personal risk. The true nature of “Terra Australis” had long been established by the time Robert Falcon Scott and comrades stood at the South Pole on Jan. 17, 1912; but existing knowledge could not diminish the terrible toll the conditions exacted on the men. “Great God!” wrote Scott in his journal, “this is an awful place.” All five members of Scott’s polar team died before they could reach their base camp.
PHOTOS: Forgotten Discoveries of Scott's Antarctica
Moscow at night Time and technology have enabled us to explore, not just across the surface of the globe or even beneath its waves, but from on high. Here, Moscow is seen at night from the International Space Station, flying at an altitude of approximately 240 miles on March 28, 2012. A solar array panel for the space station is on the left side of the frame. The Aurora Borealis, airglow and daybreak frame the horizon.
Pale Blue Dot In contrast to earlier suppositions about our place in the firmaments, we know now that our globe is not at the center of the cosmos, and that other celestial bodies are not attached to interlaced spheres that rotate around us. We are but one world among many, in one solar system among many, in one galaxy among many. In this image, taken by the Voyager I spacecraft from a distance of 4 billion miles, Earth is but a speck – a pale blue dot – in the cosmic night.
NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
Blue Marble If satellite images of Earth now seem almost routine, they never lose their ability to enthrall. This picture of the western hemisphere was captured on January 25 by NASA’s latest Earth observation satellite, Suomi NPP. By February 1, it had registered over 3 million views on Flickr – testament to the beauty and fascination of our Blue Marble.
PHOTOS: Earth's Blue Marble Beauty
Small sensors found in most smartphones and laptops are sensitive enough to detect the movement of moderate and large earthquakes, and could vastly expand the information gathered during seismic events in densely populated cities, new research suggests.
The devices, called micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) accelerometers, measure movement in three dimensions and tell the phone's screen to flip from horizontal to vertical when the phone tilts. In laptops, they detect the motion of falling, and force the hard drive into a safe mode prior to impact.
Given the widespread use of laptops and smartphones containing these devices, researchers at Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology decided to test whether the sensors could adequately record earthquake movements. (7 Ways the Earth Changes in the Blink of an Eye)
"Theoretically, any device connected to the Internet with an internal MEMS accelerometer, such as a computer or mobile phone, can become a strong-motion seismic station, and that could be easily used to enormously increase the number of observation points when an earthquake occurs," said study co-author Antonino D’Alessandro.
To test the effectiveness of the MEMS technology, the team attached a MEMS accelerometer -- the same model found in the iPhone 4 and 5 -- to a device used in conventional seismic surveys, and placed both on a vibrating table, that was oscillating at a known rate. They then compared the readings, to determine if the MEMS chip produced the same readings as the conventional technology.
The researchers found the chip did indeed collect data comparable to that of the standard device. This suggests the MEMS chip could gather data during moderate and large earthquakes (those with a magnitude of 5 or greater), as long as the device was near the epicenter of the movement. The team details their findings yesterday (Sept. 29) in the journal Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.
"The number of victims following a strong earthquake depends mainly on the intensity of shaking, and the speed of rescue operations," said study co-author Antonino D'Alessandro. "A real-time urban seismic network can drastically reduce casualties in urban areas immediately following a strong earthquake, by quickly distributing information about the distribution and intensity of ground shaking."
The chip did not accurately detect small movements, suggesting it would not be useful in small earthquakes, but the researchers noted that MEMS technology is advancing, and might soon be able to deal with subtler movements.
Researchers at Stanford University in California have also recently explored ways to use MEMS technology in seismic networks, and have even begun creating an international network of volunteer internet users called the Quake-Catcher Network.
While such networks are valuable, they may not be possible to create well in poor or remote cities, where fewer residents have Internet access, D'Alessandro noted. As an alternative, the team suggested manufacturers could develop MEMS devices for the sole purpose of collecting seismic data, and distribute them to emergency management teams in earthquake-prone cities. The teams could then deploy the devices to locations as they see fit.
The research group is now testing a new MEMS accelerometer model that they say is 100 times more sensitive than the one currently used in iPhones, which may be sensitive enough to accurately record small-scale earthquakes.
Follow Laura Poppick on Twitter. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.
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