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Civil Engineering Magazine

Cascadia Initiative Enables Mapping of Entire Tectonic Plate

November 17th, 2015
Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D

When the New Yorker magazine published "The Really Big One" in July 2015, the article quickly went viral. The piece portended complete devastation in a 140,000 sq mi section of the United States' Pacific Northwest, affecting 7 million people and the cities of Seattle and Portland, among others. The cause of this desctruction would be a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami created by a full rupture of the Cascadia subduction zone, the area where the Juan de Fuca plate system dives beneath the North American plate in the Pacific Ocean, creating a 620 mi long megathrust fault just off the coastline.

But while a huge earthquake and tsunami will almost certaintly occur there at some point in the future, there is still much that is unknown about the behavior of tectonic plates and how they generate earthquakes. This is where the Cascadia Initiative - a $20-million, four-year onshore/offshore seismic and geodetic experiment spearheaded by the University of Oregon and supported by the National Science Foundation - can have a significant impact. As part of its efforts, the initiative blanketed the ocean floor in seismometers to collect publicly available data for an in-depth analysis of this critical system.

The richness of the data being gathered by the Cascadia Initiative will lead to many years' worth of important studies. "With time, we will be able to use the new constraints to better understand the driving forces behind the earthquakes and volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest," said Richard Allen, Ph.D., the director of the Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley and a professor and the chair of the university's earth and planetary science department, who wrote in response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. Allen is a coleader of one of the principle investigative teams for the Cascadia Initiative's data. Titled "Mantle Flow Geomoetry from Ridge to Trench beneath the Gorda-Juan de Fuca Plate System", the paper was published on November 2 by Nature Geoscience.

Read more at Civil Engineering

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Congress members ask Obama to fund earthquake early warning system

November 2, 2015
Ericka Shin

Members of Congress sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday asking for federal funding for an earthquake early warning system that was created in tandem with a campus laboratory.

Thirty-six House Democrats - led by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Washington - asked Obama for $16.1 million to support the West Coast Earthquake Early Warning System.

"Even with just seconds of warning before shaking begins, automated steps can be taken to prevent casualties and mitigate destruction," Schiff and Kilmer said in a letter.

The U.S. Geological Survey collaborated with varios universities and research institutions - including the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and the California Office of Emergency Services - to develop the earthquake early warning system, which is meant to give notice before tremors occur.

Read more at The Daily Californian

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Scientists map source of Northwest's next big quake

November 2, 2015
UC Berkeley News Center

A large team of scientists has nearly completed the first map of the mantle under the tectonic plate that is colliding with the Pacific Northwest and putting Seattle, Portland and Vancouver at risk of the largest eartuqkaes and tsunamis in the world.

A new report from five members of the mapping team describes how the movement of the ocean-bottom Juan de Fuca plate is connected to the flow of the mantle 150 kilometers (100 miles) underground, which could help seismologists understand the forces generating quakes as large as the destructive Tohoku quake that struck Japan in 2011.

"This is the first time we've been able to map out the flow of mantle across an entire plate, so as to understand plate tectonics on a grand scale," said Richard Allen, a professor and chair of earth and planetary science at the University of Calofornia, Berkeley, and the senior author of a paper published online Nov. 2 in the journal Nature Geoscience."Our goal is to understand large-scale plate tectonic processes and start to link them all the way down to the smallest scale, to specific earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest."

Read more at UC Berkeley News Center

Cascadia Crew ropes in OBS

An ocean bottom seismometer being retrieved after spending 10 months on the floor of the Pacific Ocean to map the mantle 100 miles underneath the Juan de Fuca plate.

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San Ramon earthquake swarm continues, experts predict a couple more weeks of shakers

October 20th, 2015
Bay City News

SAN RAMON (BCN) - San Ramon's recent torrent of tremblors continued into Monday night, and it's not likely these earthquakes will stop anytime soon, according to U.S. Geological Survey officials.

At 9:33pm Monday, a 2.8-magnitude earthquake struck near San Ramon, according to preliminary USGS data. Two 2.5-magnitude earthquakes hit the same area a few hours earlier.

Those tremblors followed on the heels of a 3.6-magnitude earthquake that rattled San Ramon at 4:21pm Monday. Six seconds before that there was a 2.3-magnitude earthquake, which has been downgraded from preliminary reports that it was a 3.5-magnitude shaker.

Full story at KRON4 News

AGU Earth Magazine

Vital seconds: The journey toward earthquake early warning for all

October 2015
By Jennifer Strauss


When the South Napa quake struck in August 2014, damage was minimal and deaths were few. Several buildings, homes and roads were damaged, and several vineyards lost wine as bottles and barrels crashed down. Visible fault scarps remain in the vineyards. Credit: Dan Ponti, USGS.

It is a cool foggy morning in San Mateo, Calif. A small ray of light has just peeked through my window. I listen to the birds chirping as I relish the final moments before my alarm calls for the start of a new day. It's 6:15 a.m. Fifteen more minutes of a sleeping child.

A wailing cellphone alert breaks my serenity:"Earthquake! Drop, cover and hold on! Strong shaking expected!" I grab my phone and run to my daughter's room. The MyEEW app -- an earthquake early warning app released by our reserach team at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory --is glowing bright orange: shaking intensity eight. We have 10 seconds until the shaking begins. Luckily,we have practiced this drill countless times at home. Muscle memory is the only thing keeping me centered while my thoughts race. Shaking intensity eight.Our condo is secure, but old. My husband grabs our go-bag and meets my daighter and me under our sturdy kitchen table. we hold. Three seconds left. Hey, at least our timing is getting better.

3..2..1..Lurch. We rock and roll like waves on the ocean in the middle of a tempest, but our human and table defenses hold firm. Books fly off the shelves. Pictures drop from the wall. We hear so much noise -- object smashing, furniture walking about -- and even though I know it is fantasy, my mind conjures an image of us falling into the giant maw of the Earth. The seconds seem like hours, the lights flicker and die. Then there is silence...

Read the full story at Earth Magazine

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8.3 Magnitude Quake Shakes Chile Capital, Causes Buildings To Sway

September 16th, 2015
ABC7 Local News

SANTIAGO, Chile(KGO) -- A powerful earthquake has shaken Chile's capital, causing buildings to sway and people to take refuge in the streets.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.9 and then upgraded it to an 8.3. This is considered a great quake, capable of extreme damage.

U.S. officials say the quake was centered about 153 miles north-northwest of Santiago.

Read the full story at ABC7 Local News

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CT scan of Earth links deep mantle plumes with volcanic hotspots

September 2nd, 2015
By Robert Sanders

Earthquake signal

University of California, Berkeley, Seismologists have produced for the first time a sharp, three-dimensional scan of Earth's interior that conclusively connects plumes of hot rock rising through the mantle with surface hotspots that generate volcanic island chains like Hawaii, Samoa and Iceland.

Essentially a computed tomography, or CT scan, of Earth's interior, the picture emerged from a supercomputer simulation at the Department of Energy's National Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

While medical CTs employ X-rays to probe the body, the scientists mapped mantle plumes by analyzing the paths of seismic waves bouncing around Earth's interior after 273 strong earthquakes that shook the globe over the past 20 years.

Read the full story at UC Berkeley News Center

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Data-Quake: An App That Crowdsources Seismic Data Could Use Some Crowdfunding

September 4th, 2015
By Glen Martin

Earthquake signal

California wants to lay out some major cash for hyperambitious public works projects. For example, the Twin Tunnels, Jerry Brown's retread of the peripheral canal that was defeated by voters in 1982 during his first go-round as governer. Depending on whom you talk to, this massive water conveyance scheme will cost between $25 and $67 billion.

Or how about that high-speed rail? When completed, California's bullet train will shuttle citizens between L.A. and the Bay Area in less than three hours. Such impressive speed, of course, comes at a price; the latest guesstimate is that it'll cost about $100 billion to build out the system.

So you'd think there might be a few million dollars in California's petty cash drawer that could be put to a more immediate need: A seismic detection system that would greatly enhance the data set on California's faults and quakes and could maybe, just maybe, provide advance temblor warning to citizens...

Read the full story at California Magazine

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Federal Funding Firms Up Earthquake Warning System's Short-Term Future

August 26th, 2015
By Eyragon Eidam

Napa quake house damage

Buildings in Napa, Calif. were damaged following a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in August 2014. U.S. Geological Survey/Erol Kalkan

As the ground near Piedmont, Calif., began to shake in the morning hours of Aug. 17, sensors and algorithms were busy putting together an advance earthquake alert. It was just another day and another earthquake for the ShakeAlert system.

But a California Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) system is far from complete, and successes to date are almost overshadowed by slow-to-trickle-in funding. While the federal government has invested some money in the undertaking, program officials say the state of California hasn't made an overt move to run with the fiscal ball just yet, in spite of supportive legislation.

Read more at Emergency Management

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Seismologists testing early earthquake detection app

August 17th, 2015

1.2 million to ramp up earthquake early warning system

Jul 30, 2015

Robert Sanders

The West Coast earthquake early warning system moved a step closer to reality this week as the U.S. Geological Survey awarded $4 million to the University of California, Berkeley, and three other universities to turn current demonstration system, called ShakeAlert, into a robust prototype that can be used broadly by cities, industries, utilities and transportation networks in California, Oregon, and Washington.

The awards, which includes $1.2 million to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, will allow the partners - USGS, UC Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Washington and the University of Oregon - to expand the number of users and bring ShakeAlert closer to full operation while greatly improving its speed and reliability.

Full story at UC Berkeley News Center

KQED Radio Forum: 'The Really Big One' That Will Hit the Pacific Northwest

Jul 22, 2015

There's a fault line that should strike greater fear in your heart than the San Andreas or the Hayward. The Cascadia Subduction Zone runs off the U.S. West Coast from Cape Mendocino in California north to Vancouver Island in Canada. The 700-mile fault zone has the potential to unleash such an enormous earthquake and tsunami that, in the words of one expert, "everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast." The New Yorker's Kathryn Schulz joins us to outline what's at stake. Her article "The Really Big One" appears in the magazine's latest issue. We'll also hear from a Bay Area seismologist about the fault's implications for California.

Host: Michael Krasny

Guests: Kathryn Schulz (Staff writer for the New Yorker) and Richard Allen (Director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory)

View on KQED Radio website

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Los Gatos Startup, Arx Pax, Aims to Use Hoverboard Technology to Lift Buildings During Earthquakes

June 16, 2015
Scott Budman

A South Bay startup aims to improve earthquake safety.

Arx Pax, Based in Los Gatos, is known for creating a hoverboard to let people float above the ground. The company now wants to use the same technology to one day lift a building during an earthquake.


In light of recent quakes in Napa and Nepal, UC Berkeley's seismological laboratory has been looking into Arx Pax Technology.

"This is not some sort of out there science fiction idea," said Dr. Jennifer Strauss, UC Berkeley Seismological Lab. "This is a reasonable idea that could actually work."

Full story at NBC Bay Area logo

Expert talks fact and fiction behind Hollywood's 'San Andreas' movie

June 4, 2015
Paul Chambers

San Andreas screen shot.

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Some say it will be one of Hollywood's blockbuster movies of this year.

"San Andreas" starring Hayward's own Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson opened in some theaters Thursday night.

But could the big quake in the movie happen here in the Bay Area? That's the question KTVU asked local experts. "All of the disaster stuff is more than anything we expect scientifically happening in California," said Peggy Hellweg from Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

Full story at KTVU

May 3, 2015

Horst Rademacher

Why was last weekend's earthquake in Nepal so devastating? One reason is the geologic setting: When a magnitude 7.9 quake with a shallow source of only 12 kilometers below the ground strikes, very strong seismic shaking has to be expected and significant ground motion will spread over a very large area. Indeed, last Saturday's seismic waves were clearly felt both in New Delhi as well as in Dhaka. Each capital is located more than 800 km away from the epicenter.


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Peggy Hellweg on the latest Nepal earthquake

May 2, 2015
CCTV America

The BSL's Peggy Hellweg talks about the second large earthquake in Nepal what can be done worldwide for earthquake early warning and earthquake preparation.

Scientists on the trail of flurries of tremors near quake zones

Mysterious seismic tremors deep inside the Earth have puzzled earthquake scientists for more than a decade, so on Thursday scientists lowered a package of sensitive instruments into the San Andreas Fault to learn what those tiny quakes mean.

The most recent surge of underground tremors followed the destructive Napa earthquake in August. For 100 days in a row, wave after wave of them triggered seismometers 250 miles away near the tiny southern Monterey County towns of Parkfield and Cholame, said Robert Nadeau, a geophysicist at the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

At Cholame on Thursday, seismologist Peggy Hellweg, the operations manager at the seismological lab, and her colleagues lowered a compact array of three seismometers, known as the Tremorscope, into the ground through a concrete-encased borehole drilled 750 feet down.

Read more at SFGATE...

News graphic with map showing cluster of tremor locations 2001-2011, the location of the M6.0 Parkfield 2004 quake, and the San Andreas Fault.

Quake warnings of minutes, not hours, are possible, but pricey

April 27, 2015
By Sharon Begley

(Reuters) - Nepal's record of earthquakes dates to at least the 13th century, with significant temblors striking every 75 years or so. And through all that time, in Nepal as in most seismically active areas, there has been one constant: people in the path of destruction have had no idea when the shaking would start.

Even after decades of research, "our ability to predict earthquakes is still non-existent," said seismologist Peggy Hellweg, of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

The area around Kathmandu suffered damaging quakes in 1934 and 1988, but when disaster experts met in Nepal's capital earlier this month, all they could forecast was that the next one would probably come in the next couple of decades.

Read more at REUTERS

Cell phones as quake early warning devices? Scientists hope so

April 10, 2015
By David Perlman

Add this to your smartphone’s many functions: In the near future it could help save lives by warning that a powerful, distant earthquake is about to shake the ground.

Earthquake scientists are proposing that “crowdsourcing” hundreds or even thousands of volunteers with their highly sensitive mobile phones could create a seismic early warning system to alert users of oncoming seismic shocks.

Seismologists in Menlo Park and UC Berkeley are testing the phones and foresee them as particularly useful in developing regions, like Southeast Asia and parts of Africa, that are prone to large and often devastating earthquakes but where more sophisticated warning systems don’t exist.

Read more at SFGATE

Left: Joe Cagajeski (front) and Erica Vaughn (behind) on their phones while they wait for food from the Senior Sisig food truck in the financial district in San Francisco, California, on Monday, April 6, 2015. Someday, their phones might warn them of an approaching ground shaking. Photo: Liz Hafalia, SF Chronicle.

7.0+ Magnitude Mega-Quake Possible In Berkeley Hills As Seismic Movement Links Calaveras, Hayward Faults

April 2, 2015

BERKELEY (KCBS) - New research from seismologists at the University of California, Berkeley shows the Hayward Fault is actually a branch of the Calaveras Fault, meaning the faults have a much greater destructive potential in the case of a simultaneous rupture, potentially triggering a tremor stronger than the 1989 disaster.

Learn more at KCBS

Links in Hayward, Calaveras faults a big danger, scientists warn

April 2, 2015

New evidence shows clearly that traces of the long-feared Hayward Fault and the recently active Calveras Fault are closely linked underground - indicating that both could rupture together in an earthquake more destructive than past forecasts have indicated, Berkeley quake scientists report.

Read more at SFGATE

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Calaveras-Hayward fault link means potentially larger quakes

UC Berkeley seismologists have proven that the Hayward Fault is essentially a branch of the Calaveras Fault that runs east of San Jose, which means that both could rupture together, resulting in a significantly more destructive earthquake than previously thought.

"The maximum earthquake on a fault is proportional to its length, so by having the two directly connected, we can have a rupture propagating across from one to the other, making a larger quake," said lead researcher Estelle Chaussard, a postdoctoral fellow in the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory. "People have been looking for evidence of this for a long time, but only now do we have the data to prove it."

Read more at UC Berkeley News Center...

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KQED Radio Forum: New Forecast Increases Odds for Huge Earthquake in California

March 12, 2015

Guests: Morgan Page (USGS Pasadena), Patrick Otellini (City and County of San Francisco), Richard Allen (BSL), Tim Dawson (California Geological Survey)

View on KQED Radio website

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Obama Urges Early Earthquake Warning System

February 4, 2015
Jean Elle

California lawmakers say President Barack Obama's recommendation to spend $5 million next year on an early earthquake warning system for the West Coast represents a significant breakthrough. logo

UC Berkeley marks 100th anniversary of campus landmark

February 3rd, 2015
Amber Lee

Campanile 100 year celebration

BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) -- On the UC Berkeley campus Tuesday night, officials launched a year-long celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the prominent clock tower known as the Campanile with a special show.


Live music was provided by a carillon, a piano-like instrument played by musicians up inside the clock tower blended with simulated sounds of bells.

The composition they played was named "Natural Frequencies," music driven by a seismometer buried 70 feet below ground on campus that measures the earth's movements.

Full story at

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California receives U.S. funding for earthquake early-warning system

December 14, 2014
Rong-Gong Lin III, LA Times

Napa quake house damage

A home in Napa, damaged by a 6.0-magnitude earthquake in August. (Alvin Jornada / European Pressphoto Agency)

California has received congressional funding to begin rolling out an earthquake early-warning system next year, capping nearly a decade of planning, setbacks and technological breakthroughs, officials said Sunday.

Scientists have long planned to make such a system available to some schools, fire stations, and more private businesses in 2015, but their effort hinged on Congress providing $5 million. The system would give as much as a minute's warning before shaking is felt in metropolitan areas, a margin that experts say would increase survival.


The early-warning system is considered a major advance in seismic safety because it can give the public crucial seconds to prepare for the effects of shaking. Scientists eventually want to make alerts available to a wider public via phones, computers and special devices, such as modified weather radios, once the network is refined.

Full story from LA Times

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California professor builds his own home earthquake detector

September 12, 2014
Bruce Kennedy, CBS MoneyWatch

Josh Blum hands and homemade detector

Berkeley astronomer Joshua Bloom says his home-made detector cost him about $100 -- and is built from a $35 minicomputer, a speaker, a Wi-Fi adapter and an SD memory card. It also uses Shake Alert, a software developed by researchers at Berkeley's seismology lab, and is linked to earthquake sensors all over California.

"Those sensors wind up shaking and send their signals to a central computer," Bloom told CBS station KPIX 5 -- signals that also broadcast an alert on his home device.

And it apparently works. Bloom says the detector woke him up about five seconds ahead of last month's Napa quake with an automated voice message, saying "Earthquake! Light shaking expected in seconds."

Video and full story at CBS Money Watch

Private Sector Takes Role in Advancing Quake Early Warning

Full story from NBC Los Angeles

Public Officials Support Berkeley's Earthquake Warning System

Full story at UC Berkeley News Center

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Earthquake warning systems exist. But California won't pay for one.

August 26, 2014
Alex Park, Mother Jones

Bricks fallen on car

As Bay Area residents clean their streets and homes after the biggest earthquake to hit California in 25 years rocked Napa Valley this weekend, scientists are pushing lawmakers to fund a statewide system that could warn citizens about earthquakes seconds before they hit.

California already has a system, called ShakeAlert, that uses a network of sensors around the state to detect earthquakes just before they happen. The system - a collaboration between the University of California-Berkeley, Caltech, the US Geological Survey (USGS), and various state offices - detects a nondestructive current called a P-wave that emanates from a quake's epicenter just before the destructive S-wave shakes the earth. ShakeAlert has successfully predicted several earthquakes, including this weekend's Napa quake. It could be turned into a statewide warning system. But so far, the money's not there.

Full story at Mother Jones

Peggy Hellweg and news anchor CBC logo

Berkeley's Earthquake Early Warning System

August 25, 2014
CBC News

Dr. Peggy Hellweg explains how Berkeley's Earthquake Early Warning can give the public critical seconds to prepare for shaking caused by an earthquake.

Full story and video at CBC News (Canada)

Looking for the Holy Grail in earthquake prediction

ABC 7 KGO logo

March 24, 2014
Wayne Freedman

"It is one of the stranger juxtapositions in science. Cass Winery in Paso Robles, where they pull more than wine from the soil. Look up there, high on the hill. It's a deeper quest. "At other sites we hit granite, we hit limestone." You will find many materials in California's unpredicatbel San Andreas earthquake fault which has a history of striking without warning. But maybe not in the future if Dr. Peggy Hellweg finds what she is looking for. A relatively new discovery: tremor waves..."

Photo of Lawson Adit entrance
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UC Berkeley taps its old mine shaft to study Hayward Fault

March 16, 2014
Will Kane

Mining 101 on the UC Berkeley campus a hundred years ago: the basics of dynamite, shoring a mine shaft, mine surveying and mine rescue.

And it wasn't just mining theory. The students, 18, 19 and 20 years old, actually blasted and dug a shaft, called the Lawson Adit, into the rocky hills on the northeastern corner of campus.

The shaft, which before a series of cave-ins ran nearly 900 feet into the earth just east of the Hearst Mining Building, still stretches some 200 dark, damp feet into the earth, but now sits mostly neglected behind an unassuming locked gate.

Earthquake researchers hope to install seismographs and high-frequency microphones that can detect the squeals of the nearby Hayward Fault later this year, but for now the adit is a mostly unknown bit of Berkeley - and Bay Area -history.

Read more at SF Gate...

Watch the story from KPIX...

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Photo of destruction from Loma Prieta quake

Who Will Pay for an Earthquake Warning System on the West Coast?

Temblor early warning systems are real—and making their U.S. debut

Feb 6, 2014
By Amy Nordrum

A few weeks ago seismologist Tom Heaton was on the phone with a reporter extolling the virtues of a new earthquake early warning system he helped invent. Suddenly, an alert flashed across the computer screen in his Los Angeles–area office. “Oh, it just popped up! There was an earthquake in San Francisco and the waves will get to me in about two and a half minutes,” Heaton said with a glance. “But it's a [magnitude] 2.8 so we won’t feel it.”

Heaton, director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, is part of the team of California researchers behind the new warning system, called ShakeAlert. It is triggered by the earliest waves of a quake, which are too subtle for humans to feel.

Read the full story at Scientific American

"If there's a prominent commonality in these signals, it might tell us something about the natural response of the stadium, or the stadium-soil system"
  - Doug Dreger, UC Berkeley seismologist and 49ers fan

Seattle NFL stadium now wired for crowd-quakes

17 January 2014
Alyssa Botelho

Come Sunday in Seattle, the CenturyLink Field American football stadium will be rocking – and there'll be seismic sensors there to prove it.

The stadium is home to the National Football League's Seattle Seahawks and renowned for its raucous crowds. In January 2011, the team's Marshawn Lynch ran his way into team history with an improbable game-winning touchdown (pictured), the reaction to which registered at a seismic station 90 metres from the stadium.

Now the stadium itself is wired to pick up crowd tremors, and starting last week, researchers at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) began streaming live seismic readings out to fans, and using the experience to test their readiness in case a real earthquake strikes the seismically active region.

Read the full story at New Scientist