Watch Earthquake Roll Across A Continent In Seismograph Visualization Video

If your only exposure to seismologists at work is through film and television, you can be forgiven for thinking they still lay out rolls of paper to examine lines of ink under a magnifying glass. The reality is far more interesting in a field that has eagerly adopted all available technology. A dramatic demonstration of modern earthquake data gathering, processing, and visualization was Tweeted by @IRIS_EPO following a central California quake on July 4th, 2019. In this video can see the quake’s energy propagate across the continental United States in multiple waves of varying speed and intensity. The video is embedded below, but click through to the Twitter thread too as it has a lot more explanation.

The acronym IRIS EPO expands out to Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, Education and Public Outreach. We agree with their publicity mission; more people need to know how cool modern seismology is. By combining information from thousands of seismometers, we could see forces that we could not see from any individual location. IRIS makes seismic data available to researchers (or curious data science hackers) in a vast historical database or a real time data stream. Data compilations are presented in several different forms, this particular video is a GMV or Ground Motion Visualization. Significant events like the 4th of July earthquake get their own GMV page where we can see additional details, like the fact this visualization compiled data from 2,132 stations.

If this stirred up interest in seismology, you can join in the fun of networked seismic data. A simple seismograph can be built from quite humble components, but of course there are specially designed chips for the task as well.

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Build A Seismometer Out Of Plumbing Parts

For those outside the rocking and rolling of California’s tectonic plate, earthquakes probably don’t come up on a daily basis as a topic of conversation. Regardless, the instrument to measure them is called a seismometer, and it’s entirely possible to build one yourself. [Bob LeDoux] has shared his article on how to build a Fluid Mass Electrolytic Seismometer, and it’s an impressive piece of work.

This is an instrument which works very differently from the typical needle-and-graph type seen in the movies. Fluid is held in a sealed chamber, with a restricted orifice in the center of a tube. The fluid level is monitored at each side of the orifice. When motion occurs, fluid levels change at either side which allows seismic activity to be measured.

Hooked up to some basic analog electronics, in this form, the device only shows instantaneous activity. However, it would be trivial for the skilled maker to hook this up to a datalogging setup to enable measurements to be plotted and stored. The entire project can be built with simple hand tools and a basic PCB, making it highly accessible.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen a seismometer, either – the Raspberry Shake project is a distributed network of sensors running on the Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Shake Detects Quakes

The Raspberry Pi’s goal, at least while it was being designed and built, was to promote computer science education by making it easier to access a working computer. What its low price tag also enabled was a revolution in distributed computing projects (among other things). One of those projects is the Raspberry Shake, a seismograph tool which can record nearby earthquakes.

Of course, the project just uses the Pi as a cost-effective computing solution. It runs custom software, but if you want to set up your own seismograph then you’ll also need some additional hardware. There are different versions of the Raspberry Shake, the simplest using a single Geophone which is a coil and magnet. Vibrations are detected by sensing the electric signal generated by the magnet moving within the coil of wire. Other models increase the count to three Geophones, or add in MEMS accelerometers, you can easily whip one of these up on your own bench.

The entire setup will fit nicely on a coffee table as well, making it much smaller (and cheaper) than a comparable professional seismograph. Once all of the Raspberry Shakes around the world were networked together, it gives an accurate, real-time view of seismic activity anywhere you can imagine. If you’ve ever been interested in geology or just want to see where the latest earthquake was, check out their projects. But you don’t need even a Raspberry Pi to see where the earthquakes are, thanks to a Hackaday Prize entry all you need is a Twitter account.

Thanks to [Rich Cochran] aka [AG6QR] for the tip!

Hackaday Prize Entry: Device For Seismic Noise Analysis

Whenever there is an earthquake somewhere in the world, our TV screens fill with images of seismic data. Those news report graphics with simplified bite-sized diagrams that inform the masses, but usually get something wrong. Among the images there will invariably be one of a chart recorder drawing a significant earthquake trace on paper, which makes good TV, but is probably miles away from the state of the art in seismology.

We are not seismologists here at Hackaday, so it was extremely interesting to find [Michael D]’s project, Device for Seismic Noise Analysis. In it, he gives a basic primer in seismic sensors, and outlines his take on the subject, a sensitive wideband seismic sensor designed to capture the seismic background noise. It seems that many seismic sensors are designed to capture big events, yet ignore the noise between them from which using suitable software one can glean advance warning of seismic events.

The sensor is a simple design, a ball of significant mass rests upon three piezoelectric microphone elements spaced at 120 degree intervals. An extremely high impedance op-amp circuit converts and integrates the charge from the piezo element to a voltage that can be read by an Arduino Yun which harvests the data. It is a bold claim, but the device is said to have already given advance warning of minor seismic events near its Tennessee test site.

Seismology has featured here a few times before. There was this seismometer using a subwoofer as its sensor, and this project using commercial geophones, just to name a couple of examples.

We Have A Problem: Earthquake Prediction

Nepal | 25 April 2015 | 11:56 NST

It was a typical day for the 27 million residents of Nepal – a small south Asian country nestled between China and India. Men and women went about their usual routine as they would any other day. Children ran about happily on school playgrounds while their parents earned a living in one of the country’s many industries. None of them could foresee the incredible destruction that would soon strike with no warning. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the country at its core. 9,000 people died that day. How many didn’t have to?

History is riddled with earthquakes and their staggering death tolls. Because many are killed by collapsing infrastructure, even a 60 second warning could save many thousands of lives. Why can’t we do this? Or a better question – why aren’t we doing this? Meet [Micheal Doody], a Reproductive Endocrinologist with a doctorate in steel rodphysical biochemistry. While he doesn’t exactly have the background needed to pioneer a novel approach to predict earthquakes, he’s off to a good start.

He uses piezoelectric pressure sensors at the heart of the device, but they’re far from the most interesting parts. Three steel balls, each weighing four pounds, are suspended from a central vertical post. Magnets are used to balance the balls 120 degrees apart from each other. They exert a lateral force on the piezo sensors, allowing for any movement of the vertical post to be detected. An Arduino and some amplifiers are used to look at the piezo sensors.

The system is not meant to measure actual vibration data. Instead it looks at the noise floor and uses statistical analysis to see any changes in the background noise. Network several of these sensors along a fault line, and you have yourself a low cost system that could see an earthquake coming, potentially saving thousands of lives.

[Michael] has a TON of data on his project page. Though he’s obviously very skilled, he is not an EE or software guy. He could use some help with the signal analysis and other parts. If you would like to lend a hand and help make this world a better place, please get in touch with him.

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A Web Connected Seismometer

[10DotMatrix] has a budding interest in seismology, so she decided to make her own seismometer out of some easy-to-find materials. Seismometers are prohibitively expensive for hobbyists, but thankfully it’s really easy to build a usable siesmometer out of simple parts. [10DotMatrix]’s seismometer is built around a modified subwoofer, which acts as a transducer for the earth’s vibrations.

The subwoofer is mounted to the bottom of a tripod, which forms the structure of the seismometer. A slinky is stretched between the top of the tripod and a weight that rests on the coil of the subwoofer. Whenever the ground shakes, the slinky and weight vibrate and induce current in the voice coil.

Since these vibrations are usually quite small, the output of the subwoofer needs a bit of amplification. [10DotMatrix] fed the output of the woofer to an AD620 op amp, which amplifies the signal to a measurable level. The amplifier’s output is fed into an Intel Edison board, which samples the voltage and transmits it to a web dashboard for online viewing.

If you’re shaking with excitement about seismic measurements you’ll surely be interested in this similar method which uses a piezo element as the detector.

Printing Text With A Chart Recorder

A chart recorder printing 'Hello World'

Chart recorders are vintage devices that were used to plot analog values on paper. They’re similar to old seismometers which plot seismic waves from earthquakes. The device has a heated pen which moves across a piece of thermally sensitive paper. This paper is fed through the machine at a specified rate, which gives two dimensions of plotting.

[Marv] ended up getting a couple of discontinued chart recorders and figured out the interface. Five parallel signals control the feed rate of the paper, and an analog voltage controls the pen location. The next logical step was to hook up an Arduino to control the plotter.

However, once the device could plot analog values, [Marv] quickly looked for a new challenge. He wanted to write characters and bitmaps using the device, but this would require non-continuous lines. By adding a solenoid to lift the pen, he built a chart recorder printer.

After the break, check out a video of the chart recorder doing something it was never intended to do. If you happen to have one of these chart recorders, [Marv] included all of the code in his writeup to help you build your own.

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