Shake, rattle, and report

The Quake Catcher Network sensor
The Quake Catcher Network sensor (Photo credit: Teleyinex)

Earthquakes remain a major hazard, and our ability to predict them is still pretty limited. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) hopes to change all of that, and you can help.

The QCN wants to build the world’s largest, low-cost, strong-motion seismic network. It’s doing that by having people like you install sensors in and attached to your Internet-connected computer. The idea is that by having more sensors in more locations, we’ll get a much more detailed picture of how and when earthquakes happen.

All you have to do is order a sensor, install it (preferably mounted on your floor and connected by a USB cable to your desktop computer), and install the software. If you should experience an earthquake, the sensor will record the data, and send it to the QCN.

If you live in a high-risk area, like near the San Andreas fault, for example, you can probably get a sensor for free. K-12 classrooms can order one for a nominal fee of $5, and everyone else can get one for $49. This is one of the few projects featured on the Citizen Science Center blog that requires participants to pay to participate. However, given the economic impact a single earthquake can have (the recent Tohoku earthquake and tsunami was estimated to cost around $300 billion), to say nothing of the human toll, $49 doesn’t seem like a lot to spend.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in learning more about earthquakes, the QCN provides some lessons and activities you can download. These are geared to K-12 students, but they would be a good starting point, and they are useful for homeschoolers too.