22 May 2018

Monitoring Earthquakes

By Paula Johanson

There are many sites around the world monitoring seismic tremors from earthquakes and volcanic activity. Scientists are using seismometers to measure when and how much the ground is shaking. The answers are "often" and moderately" on the island where I live in British Columbia!

But data from any one place is not really enough on its own. What makes this information much more useful is when seismic stations share their data in networks. When scientists study and compare measurements from many sites in one region, or even around the world, they learn important things about what's happening under our feet in what looks like solid rock.

Since I live in an earthquake zone, it's really interesting to learn about the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, which has a website friendly to citizen science fans. This network is run by the University of Washington and the University of Oregon. While most of the other scientific groups contributing to this network are American, there is participation also by Canadian seismic stations. Earth tremors are truly an international issue. Check out their website at this link.

This website's maps of seismic tremors are constantly updating all the time! They use information from seismic sites in Washington State, Oregon, northern California, and the coast of British Columbia. I like to look at their interactive map, which has settings that can be changed to show more information from more sites, or fewer. Also interesting is their Hourly Tremors map, which is simpler -- it can show tremors during the last three hours or up to the last two days.

Whenever I want to know more about current volcanic activity along the nearby Pacific coast, I look on this website. If a local tremor is reported, I can check to see if it's part of a series of tremors moving north or south near the island where I live. And whenever someone tells me they don't have any emergency preparations in case of a big earthquake, this is where I send them to learn more about how many little tremors are often happening around here. Being prepared for an earthquake emergency makes sense, and maps like these help me understand I'm making sensible preparations. They also help me not get too fussy.

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