2016 - Berkeley Seismo Lab in the News

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Creep On The Hayward Fault

December 28, 2016
Jeremy Miller
The New Yorker

California’s Hayward Fault is considered one of the most dangerous seismological zones in the United States. It runs through the densely populated hills of the East Bay, sketching a diagonal line between San Jose and Richmond. Technically speaking, the Hayward is a right-lateral strike-slip fault. This means that it shows its everyday action in the form of aseismic creep, the slow, steady sliding of land along the fault’s margin. The symptoms of this tectonic origami are visible across the region—in cracked asphalt, off-kilter curbstones, and leaning walls. Every day, I drive on roads and hike on trails that crisscross the Hayward. My children attend a school and play soccer on fields that straddle it. The official state zoning map covering my neighborhood puts an “active trace” of the fault on Kensington Avenue, directly in front of our small wood-frame house. All of which is to say that the Hayward cuts an uncanny transect through our lives—as it does for hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents.

cement street curb offset due to slipping Hayward Fault

Photograph By Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the average rate of creep on the Hayward is 4.6 millimetres per year—about the length of a standard black garden ant, or a quarter of a jelly bean. After a century, in other words, my house will have migrated a foot and a half closer to Alaska. But the engine of this movement is far to the south, in the Gulf of California, where the seabed along the margin of the Pacific and North American Plates is spreading apart, putting pressure, in turn, on the San Andreas Fault. (The Hayward, along with other Bay Area faults, can be thought of as a branch of the main trunk of the San Andreas.) The sliding poses a threat to the built environment, of course, but it also has a beneficial function, according to Richard Allen, the director of the Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, which sits not far from the fault. “In one sense, creep is our enemy, since it can damage buildings and infrastructure,” Allen told me. “In another sense, creep is our friend, because it helps relieve the strain on fault lines.”

Read the entire New Yorker article here.

Mail Tribune Logo

California governer OKS plan for earthquake early warnings

September 29, 2016
Jonathan J. Cooper
The Associated Press

RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. - Californians will begin getting warnings of impending earthquakes through their cellphones, radios and other devices within the next year or two as the state ramps up a lifesaving early warning system, emergency management officials said Thursday.

seismogram of earthquake

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to develop the statewide warning system Thursday. Combined with $10 million from the state budget Brown approved early this year, California has the pieces in place to begin rolling out the warning system called ShakeAlert, said Mark Ghilarducci, head of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

Seismic early warning systems are designed to detect the first shock waves from a large jolt, calculate the strength and alert people before the slower but damaging waves spread. Mexico, China and Japan are among the countries already using them.

In the United States, California is farthest along in developing early warnings that federal officials hope to expand to Oregon and Washington.

Read more at the Mail Tribune.

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City Visions: Governor bets on earthquake early warning systems

August 15, 2016
City Vision

On the August 15, 2016 City Visions: In May, a leading earthquake scientist reported that the southern San Andreas fault is "locked, loaded, and ready to roll."


This news has brought renewed attention to California's backward earthquake early warning system, which Governor Jerry Brown is hoping to improve with a new allocation of money in this year's budget.

How much warning makes a difference in outcomes? How will a warning be transmitted to impact the most people? And how is the state hoping YOU can help?

Producer:Wendy Holcombe


Richard Allen, Ph.D. - Director, Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and Professor and Chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley.

Harvey Fineberg, Ph.D.- President of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Listen to the entire story at the KALW Local Public Radio.

UC Berkeley News logo

State budgets $10 million for earthquake early warning.

June 30th, 2016
Robert Sanders

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a 2016-17 state budget that provides $10 million to help launch a statewide earthquake early-warning system.

Although California passed a mandate in 2013 to create a statewide earthquake warning system, this is the first money appropriated by the state to make it a reality. The federal government has already provided $13.2 million to improve and test a prototype West Coast early-warning system, but this is much less than the $38 million in buildout costs and $16 million per year in operating costs needed to establish a fully functioning system serving California, Oregon and Washington.

"This is a key step toward the goal of a public earthquake early-warning system for the entire state," said Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at UC Berkeley and one of the lead researchers on the project. "This funding will enable us to add more sensors to the seismic networks, making the warnings faster and enabling the system to reach more users."

"This is an excellent beginning,"said state Sen. Jerry Hill, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, who introduced funding legislation for the warning system earlier this year with Assemblyman Adam Gray, Merced, and state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. "While we still have work to do to secure public-private partnership money to complete the build-out, this $10 million is a big boost."

Read the entire story at the Berkeley News.

Science Friday Logo

There's an App for That: Detecting Earthquakes

May 27th, 2016
Ira Flatow

Developers are creating apps that can tap into the sensors in your smartphone to measure different aspects of your environment, such as your daily number of footsteps or your heartbeat. And now there's an app to measure your surrounding seismic activity. Called MyShake, the app can detect earthquakes through your smartphone's accelerometer. Seismologist Richard Allen, who worked to develop MyShake, describes the advantages of a crowd-sourced earthquake monitoring system.

Listen to the Science Friday segment on by clicking here.

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Gov. Brown seeks to beef up California's earthquake early warning system

May 16th, 2016
Sanden Totten

Analyst at CalTech shows demostration of earthquake early warning system

California's pilot earthquake early warning system is one step closer to being ready for prime time thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown's latest budget proposal. In it, he asks the state legislature to allocate $10 million for the project.

"This is a huge thing for us and a great contribution from the state," said Ken Hudnut, science advisor for risk reduction with the U.S. Geological Survey, which is helping develop the early warning technology.

The system works thanks to sensors placed near faults that detect the rumbling of a quake just as it starts.

Once these sensors get a signal they send out an alert that travels faster than the speed of the quake's seismic waves. Computers receive and interpret that signal before issuing a warning.

Once fully developed, the network could give up to a minute's worth of lead time before shaking reaches major cities, though in many cases it would only provide seconds, if any warning at all.

Listen and read full article at 89.3 KPCC Southern California Public Radio.

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Earthquake Hits Japan: Was there an early warning?

April 14th, 2016
Ben Thompson

Photo showing damage from M 6.2 Japan quake

A strong earthquake surprised southern Japan Thursday night, causing widespread damage and possible injuries.

The Associated Press reported that the quake struck Japan's third-largest island, Kyushu, at approximately 9:26 p.m. local time, with a magnitude between 6.2 (according to the US Geological Survey) and 6.4 (according to the Japan Meteorological Agency). Measurements between six and seven on the Richter magnitude scale indicate a "strong" quake.

Despite having the world's most extensive early warning systems for earthquakes, Japan's hundreds of seismic sensors can only illustrate evidence of quakes within minutes to seconds of a shock. Peggy Hellweg, operations manager at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory (BSL), tells The Christian Science Monitor that for even the earliest warnings, "on a best case, it's two or three seconds" after the seismic event begins.

Read full Christian Science Monitor article here.

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App shakes up earthquake science by turning users into sensors

February 12, 2016
Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Smartphones could become the makeshift quake detectors of the future, thanks to a new app launched Friday designed to track tremors and potentially save the lives of its users.

MyShake, available on Android, links users to become an all-in-one earthquake warning system; it records quake-type rumblings, ties a critical number of users to a location, and could eventually provide a countdown to the start of shaking.

Its inventors say the app, released by the University of California, Berkeley, could give early warning of a quake to populations without their own seismological instruments.

Read full Reuters article here.

"We think MyShake can make earthquake early warning faster and more accurate in areas that have a traditional seismic network, and can provide life-saving early warning in countries that have no seismic network."
Richard Allen
LA Times Logo

Scientists develop new app that uses your cellphone to detect earthquakes

February 12, 2016
Rosanna Xia and Rong-Gong Lin II

MyShake screen shots

When the earth shakes in California, the first place you are likely to hear about it is on social media."Earthquake!" "Did you feel that?" "How big?" are common messages on Twitter and Facebook as Californians try to share information on their mobile phones in real time.

Now, UC Berkeley scientists are hoping to capture that sharing impulse in a massive science experiment: Using cellphones to detect earthquakes as soon as they start.

Read full LA Times article here.

Nature Magazine Logo

In Japan, small shakes presage big quakes

January 28th, 2016
Alexandra Witze

Eos figure

The 2011 Tohoku earthquake caused devastation in Japan.

Photo credit:The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images.

Clusters of tiny earthquakes that happen every three years could help to signal when the next big one will hit Japan, researchers report in Science.

Small, subtle quakes happen in many places where a slab of sea floor dives beneath a continent, such as in the US Pacific Northwest or off the coast of Chile. But the study of seismic activity in Japan is the first to show that they happen in regular episodes, and that those events can precede larger earthquakes.

If the same patterns hold in other earthquake-prone regions they could improve seismic risk estimates there, too.

"This is a very important finding," says Akira Hasegawa, seismologist at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, who was not involved in the research.

Read more at Nature International Weekly Journal of Science

Link to paper published in Science can be found here.

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White House renews commitment to earthquake early warning system designed at UC Berkeley

February 2nd, 2016
Bob Sanders

The Obama administration and members of Congress today renewed their commitment to funding an earthquake early warning system along the Pacific Coast, with UC Berkeley's Richard Allen predicting that such a system could reduce injuries from an earthquake by at least 50 percent.

"The question is, 'Are we ready?'" Allen said during an Earthquake Resilience Summit at the White House. "I don't think that we are quite ready yet, but the fact that we are meeting here today means there is an opportunity to push this project forward and move to a full-blown earthquake early warning system in the next few years."

Read more at Berkeley News

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UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at The White House

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US Quake Warning System Could Save Lives When Seconds Count

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Scientists Are Developing A Way To Warn You An Earthquake Is Starting

February 2nd,2016
Jacqueline Howard
Associate Science Editor

Images of seismic waves

A research geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey looks at a series of images that illustrate the seismic waves of an earthquake. The understanding of seismic waves is key for building an earthquake early warning system. Photo: DAVID MCNEW VIA GETTY IMAGES

One of the most frightening things about earthquakes is that we never know when the next big one is going to hit.

Largely because of this uncertainly, an average of 10,000 people die in earthquakes each year. However, a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Oregon, and the University of Washington hopes to decrease that number significantly.

They have developed a high-tech prototype of an earthquake early-warning system. It uses seismic data to detect the beginning of an earthquake and then sends an alert seconds before devastating ground-shaking begins, said Dr. Richard Allen, director of the Seismological Laboratory at UC Berkeley and member of the research team.

"The amount of warning time you get depends on where you are located compared to where the epicenter of the earthquake is," he told The Huffington Post. "We would want to push the warning out on your cell phone, your computer, over TV and radio and even push it through your home security system. ...We would push it out over as many channels as possible."

Read more at Huffpost Science

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A New Algorithm Offers the Possibility of Fast Tsunami Warnings

January 28th, 2016
Joshua Sokol

Eos Figure
In September, 2015, a damaging tsunami hit coastal regions in Chile. Photo by Pablo Rojas Madariaga/NurPhoto/Corbis

By the time the warning went out, the waves were already landing.

Last September, a fault slipped just west of Illapel, Chile - a magnitude 8.3 earthquake that launched waves ripping across the Pacific. Chile's coastal communities, just 50 kilometers away, were on the front lines.

Having learned from previous earthquakes, Chilean officials quickly ordered an evacuation. Sixteen minutes after the fault ruptured, some one million Chileans were told to flee. But by then, the waves had already begun to crash onshore-and even with the delay, the warning was incomplete. Officials had underestimated the earthquake's strength and they couldn't hazard a guess about the height of the waves bearing down on them. By the time they got it right and added a regional forecast, 15 more minutes had passed. By the end of the day, 13 people had died...

Read more at Hakai Magazine

Earth and Space Science News

Quake or a Bomb? Seismic Waves Speak Truth, Even If Nations Don't

January 15th, 2016
Cody Sullivan

Eos Figure

Last week, North Korea tested what it claimed to be a hydrogen bomb, or as the North Korean government declared in its official statement, an "H-Bomb of justice". However, it's not likely that North Korea has actually developed a hydrogen bomb and successfully tested it on 6 January local time (the evening of 5 January on the U.S. East Coast), as announced. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the subsequent seismic event as having a 5.1 magnitude, which is much lower than would be expected from such a powerful weapon.

But even if North Korea or anyone else conducting a clandestine nuclear test makes no announcement, seismologists can still figure out if an underground bomb test or an earthquake took place by analyzing how energy propagates from the seismic event in question.

Read more at Earth & Space Science News