California to Test GPS Earthquake Warning System

A network of GPS receivers is part of a prototype system being tested in Southern California to monitor for earthquakes and other natural hazards.

A network of GPS receivers, some outfitted with $8 accelerometers, is part of a prototype system being tested in Southern California to monitor for earthquakes and other natural hazards.

The technology is not new. Receivers that pick up signals from the constellation of Global Positioning System satellites circling Earth and calculate timing and distance have reshaped dozens of industries including farming, construction, mining and package delivery, in addition to providing air, sea, and land navigation data.

What is different is the linking of GPS receivers into a real-time network that complies and analyzes their information. The system can then be used to detect earthquakes and extreme weather in the making.

"By adding small inexpensive sensors used in popular electronic devices to existing GPS ... we can greatly enhance our response to natural hazards, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, severe weather and flooding," said researcher Yehuda Bock with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.

"The goal is to save lives during natural hazards," Bock told reporters at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this week.

Japan had a GPS monitoring system in place during its devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami, but it relied on traditional seismic data that initially caused scientists to underestimate the strength of the earthquake and the size of the resulting tsunami.

"They initially estimated the magnitude of the earthquake to be magnitude 7 after 30 seconds. Only after nine minutes did they turn it into a 7.9 earthquake. It took 2.5 hours to finally estimate that it was as large as it was" -- a magnitude 9, Bock said.

"Our system improves on the traditional seismic monitoring ... by estimating the ground motions and permanent displacements," he said. "Ground seismic systems only measure the shaking.

A large earthquake on the southern San Andrea Fault, for example, would take about 1.5 to two minutes to reach Los Angeles, precious time that could be used to issue alerts.

The system also can quickly assess potential damage to buildings, bridges, and other structures due to ground displacement after an earthquake.

For meteorological monitoring, GPS receivers are outfitted with temperature and pressure sensors to provide a continuous map of atmosphere water vapor.

"A GPS station fundamentally is measuring the amount of time it takes signals to travel from the GPS satellites to the receiving station on the ground. That travel time also is affected by the amount of moisture in the air, so every time we calculate the position of a GPS station, we're also measuring the water vapor," said Angelyn Moore, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"Using GPS for weather is not new. What's new is that there are now sufficient numbers of stations in the southern California region operating near real-time for us to evaluate the benefit," she said.

The first test run of the system occurred in July when meteorologists tracked a summer monsoon as it moved across southern California. Equipped with real-time information about the storm's progress based on GPS signals, forecasters accurately predicted a flash flood and issued a warning.

The new project aims to add sensors to an existing 550 stations with real-time networks located along the west coast of the United States, an area susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis. So far, 17 enhanced GPS stations are operational, Bock said.

"We hope to expand it throughout the west coast," he said.

A map of the Los Angeles area shows where a magnitude-5.8 earthquake centered near Chino Hills, shook buildings in the southern California area.

All gemstones are rare; some are just harder to find than others.

In fact, there is no consensus on what is the rarest mineral or the rarest gemstone because there is no consensus on the definition of "rarity," according to the Gemological Institute of America. However, many of the stones in this series come from only one or two localities in the entire world, so in that sense, they are scarce.

Pink Star Diamond

In the image above, model Annabeth Murphy-Thomas poses with the Pink Star diamond at Sotheby's auction house in central London. The diamond was put up for auction in Geneva on Nov. 13, 2013, at $60 million, an already record price for a gemstone, and sold for $83 million. Diamond cutter Isaac Wolf of New York purchased the Pink Star diamond ring, and renamed it the Pink Dream. The diamond measures 1.06 inches by 0.81 inches (2.69cm by 2.06cm).

This Blue Moon diamond, discovered in South Africa in January, 2014, weighs in at 12.03 carats, and is the largest cushion-shaped stone in that category to ever appear at auction. The Gemological Institute of America declared the Blue Moon to be “internally flawless.” It was purchased in November, 2015, by Hong Kong businessman Joseph Lau, who spent $48 million on it for his seven-year-old daughter, Josephine.

This giant rock is said to be the biggest diamond unearthed in more than century. Second in size only to the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond found in South Africa in 1905, this chunk was found in Botswana.

Opal is Australia’s national gemstone, and black opal is the rarest and most valuable of its kind, at times selling at prices that rival the best diamonds. The stone must have a rich, black background, but base colors come in all shades of gray, which is why opinions vary on what is a "true" black opal. Found in the Lightning Ridge area in northwestern New South Wales, black opals are natural, solid stones that absorb scattered white light, giving it brilliant spectral colors.

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) calls musgravite "a rarity among the rare... a particular gem on our research examination 'want list.'" A very close relative of another hard-to-find gemstone, taaffeite (and often misidentified as such), musgravite was first discovered in 1967 in the Musgrave Range of South Australia. Facet grade -- the baseline measurement of how clean cut a sellable stone must be -- for musgravite was not reported until 1993. As of 2005, there were only eight musgravite specimens in the world.

Discovered in 1951 in Mogok, Burma, painite was once considered the rarest mineral on Earth. For decades, only two crystals were known to exist. It didn't obtain official gemstone status until 1957 when the British Museum conducted X-ray analysis on a sample. In 1979, a third crystal was recovered by the GIA. Today, more than a thousand crystals and crystal fragments have been found. However, only a small percentage of the rough are suitable for sale. Painite is made up of aluminium, calcium, boron, zirconium and oxygen. It gets its orange-red to brownish-red color from trace amounts of iron.

Jeremejevite is an extremely rare, aluminium borate mineral. It was discovered in the late 19th century and named after Pavel V. Jeremejev, a Russian mineralogist and engineer. Until recently, the only two known localities for jeremejevite were Mt. Soktuj in the Transbaikal region of Russia and Cape Cross, Swakopmund, Namibia. Not much is known about jeremejevite. The color is typically aquamarine, but other records show the mineral can also be dark blue, pale yellow-brown or colorless.

Red diamonds, just like any other diamonds, are made of compressed carbon. However, the brilliant red color in these diamonds is formed from a structural defect in the crystal lattice structure, which is why they are the rarest of the colored diamond collection. Only a handful have ever received the grade of "Fancy Red," meaning that they are pure red with no modifying color. Most are sold at market for millions of dollars. The Argyle mine in Australia is the primary producer of pink and sometimes red diamonds.

This transparent, blue gem first turned up in 1962 and has been found scattered throughout northern Tanzania in Africa. Ranging in color from light blue to pure blue to dark violet-blue, the deepest hues are valued most. Made popular by jewerly giant Tiffany & Co. in 1968, Tanzanite has seen wild price fluctuations over the years. Tanzania's violent political, social and economic conditions have made it difficult at times to mine the mineral. However, the nation remains the gem's only known source.

Although "red emerald” is its snazzy marketing name, and it was originally called "bixbite," this mineral goes by the name "red beryl" today. The brilliant red-purple color is not a trick of the light. The stone's actual chemistry is distinctive and separate from other beryls. It is found along fractures in topaz rhyolites. The gem crystallizes when rhyolite-derived gases, vapors from heated groundwater, and preexisting minerals and volcanic glass in the rhyolite react all at once. There is only one known commercial production of gem-quality red beryl in the world: the Ruby Violet (or Red Beryl) mine in the Wah Wah Mountains of Beaver County, Utah.

Still one of the rarest gems known today, this pinkish mineral was named after the Poudrette family, owners and operators of a quarry near Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec, Canada, where poudretteite was first found. It was discovered as a few tiny crystals during the mid-1960s, but wasn't recognized as a new mineral until 1986. The first documented gem-quality specimen of poudretteite wasn't discovered until 2000, when it was found in Mogok, Burma. This remarkable, flawless 9.41 carat poudretteite gem from Burma is truly one-of-a-kind. It is considered to be one of the largest -- if not the largest -- faceted poudretteite in existence.