In the News
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.
- Doug Dreger, UC Berkeley seismologist and 49ers fan
Seattle NFL stadium now wired for crowd-quakes
17 January 2014
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.
West Coast's Early Warning System For Quakes Still Spotty
December 26, 2013
Richard Harris, NPR
Earthquake scientists on the West Coast would like to build a system that would give people a bit of warning before they get jolted with strong shaking from a distant quake.
Seismic waves take time to travel from the epicenter, which means such a warning system could issue alerts ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes. A prototype has been developed for the region, seismologists say, but the complete network still lacks funding, and has big gaps outside cities.
"We can now do a better job of swiftly estimating the magnitude of large earthquakes as they rupture the ground, and we have shown that we can successfully process the data in real time."
GPS stations key to state's quake warning system
Decenber 12, 2013
David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle
Earthquake scientists have found powerful new tools to alert Californians when distant earthquakes are about to cause dangerous ground-shaking where they are. Global Positioning Systems, high-tech versions of the devices that guide ships at sea and drivers through unfamiliar city streets, can instantly measure even tiny disruptions of the Earth's crust caused by major quakes, said Richard Allen, director of the UC Seismological Laboratory at Berkeley.
"We can now do a better job of swiftly estimating the magnitude of large earthquakes as they rupture the ground, and we have shown that we can successfully process the data in real time," he said, reporting the advance Thursday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
KIRO 7 investigates new earthquake alert system
November 8, 2013
Graham Johnson, KIRO 7
Now, there's a new system in place to automatically slow the trains to a safer 26 miles per hour before the ground begins shaking.
It's the first phase of an earthquake early warning system for the U.S. West Coast, and scientists have hopes of expanding it widely to include warnings to the public.
Peggy Hellweg monitors world's earthquakes
November 1, 2013
Sam Whiting, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine
In a conference room on the second floor of McCone Hall at UC Berkeley sits an old-style seismograph with a mechanical pencil, ticking away as it marks tremors on a roll of white paper. Across the hall sits Peggy Hellweg, operations manager of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.
On duty: We collect and provide data, report on earthquakes in Northern California, and train new seismologists and do research with the data that we collect. Our funding comes jointly from the federal government and the state, with some from the university.
On education: I grew up in Lafayette. I studied physics at UC San Diego. I needed a part-time job and got a job with a group of seismologists who needed a programmer. I was learning the science behind the programs I was writing, and that was seismology.
State’s earthquake warning system promised but not funded yet
October 17, 2013
Ken Pritchett, KTVU
BERKELEY, Calif. — Thursday marks 24 years since the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the Bay Area, killing 63 people, and what sets this anniversary apart from previous ones was that California was planning to build an earthquake early warning system.
Governor Brown signed a bill to create a statewide network of seismic sensors last month. But, no money was allocated and funding must be found.
Is There Earthquake Weather? And Was That It?
October 16, 2013
Sean Greene, Bay Nature
I made a $100 bet on Monday that there wouldn’t be an earthquake.
I was eating lunch in the courtyard at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where I am a student, and a classmate claimed, “This is earthquake weather!”
Calif. Gov. Brown Signs Sen. Padilla Bill to Create California Earthquake Early Warning System
September 24, 2013
Christopher Simmons, California Newswire
Governor Jerry Brown today signed Senate Bill 135 by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), which requires that the Office of Emergency Services develop a comprehensive statewide earthquake early warning system to alert Californians in advance of dangerous shaking.
“When the system is up and running, Californians will be provided critical seconds to take cover, assist loved ones, or pull over safely to the side of the road. It will allow time to stop a train and power down critical infrastructure. Most importantly, it will save lives,” said Senator Alex Padilla.
“California’s best science and technology will be used to detect seismic activity and alert people in advance of destructive shaking. An early warning system will also help public safety personnel identify and respond more quickly to areas hardest hit by a quake,” Padilla added.
“We need to develop this system without delay. California is going to have an earthquake early warning system, the question is whether we have one before or after the next big quake,” Senator Padilla said. More...
“The good news is that the technology now exists that can give us a little heads-up that allows us to take cover, help loved ones, power down industrial equipment, slow down trains or bring them to a stop and minimize the damage.”
Bill for quake-warning system goes to governor
September 13, 2013
David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle
Development and operation of an early-warning system that would swiftly alert Californians when a damaging earthquake ruptures the ground anywhere in the state received unanimous approval by the state Legislature on Thursday.
The bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima (Los Angeles County), is expected to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, legislative aides said.
Early versions of an earthquake early-warning system similar to one that is already operating in Japan have been under development and testing by scientists at UC Berkeley and the U.S. Geological Survey in Los Angeles for the past 15 years.
Padilla estimated a full-scale system would cost about $80 million to build and his bill, SB135, directs the Office of Emergency Services to find the money.
Elements of a partial working system under development since 2002 have been financed by private and public grants of more than $15 million, said Richard Allen, director of UC Berkeley's Seismological Laboratory.
New model of Earth’s interior reveals clues to hotspot volcanoes
September 5, 2013
Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley Media Relations
Scientists at UC Berkeley have detected previously unknown channels of slow-moving seismic waves in Earth’s upper mantle, a discovery that helps explain “hotspot volcanoes” that give birth to island chains such as Hawaii and Tahiti.
Unlike volcanoes that emerge from collision zones between tectonic plates, hotspot volcanoes form in the middle of the plates. The prevalent theory for how a mid-plate volcano forms is that a single upwelling of hot, buoyant rock rises vertically as a plume from deep within Earth’s mantle – the layer found between the planet’s crust and core – and supplies the heat to feed volcanic eruptions.
However, some hotspot volcano chains are not easily explained by this simple model, suggesting that a more complex interaction between plumes and the upper mantle is at play, said the study authors.
New MyQuake app educates on earthquakes
August 16, 2013
Nico Correia, Daily Cal
MyQuake, a new free iPhone app released by the Berkeley Seismological Lab, intends to shake up the way people think about earthquakes.
The app, developed by the lab and students Rohan Agarwal and Cora Bernard, aims to teach iPhone users about earthquakes and encourage safety.
Maps show recent earthquakes throughout the world as well as historically destructive earthquakes in California to keep users thinking about earthquakes — even when the effects are not catastrophic.
“The app is mainly designed for people who do not yet understand earthquakes, which is something that people who do understand earthquakes worry about,” said Peggy Hellweg, the lab’s operations manager, in an email. “(We) try to help people understand about earthquakes, what their effects can be and how people can prepare themselves. This app helps.” More...
Sounding the Alarm:
An early warning system would save thousands of lives when the next major earthquake hits. But will California find the money to implement it?
May 1, 2013
Azeen Ghorayshi, East Bay Express
At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, the Pacific Plate, just off Japan's northeast coast, suddenly thrust downward, unleashing a monstrous, 9.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked the country for the next six minutes. The massive Tohoku quake and resulting tsunami are believed to have killed at least 16,000 people and injured 6,000 more. Another 2,600 people are still missing and presumed dead. The quake was the most powerful to ever strike Japan, and was the fourth-largest ever recorded. It also was the first earthquake to be heard in outer space, and was the most expensive natural disaster in human history, generating $235 billion in total damage. But there was a silver lining, if you could call it that: Tohoku was also the first time that Japanese citizens were given the precious, if limited, gift of time.More...
Earthquake Warning System Makes Every Second Count
February 6, 2013
Luke Abaffy, Engineering News-Record
An early warning system that predicts an earthquake's approaching shock wave up to a minute before it strikes is ready to become operational throughout California. Further, a recently proposed bill would fund expansion of the system.
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D), would support the ShakeAlert system, developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and an international coalition of universities. It is based on Japan's primary-wave, or p-wave, detection system. More...
Warning: It's a quakeLawmakers should put today's technology to use and pursue a statewide early alert system.
February 3, 2013
LA Times Editorial
The San Andreas Fault is overdue for a powerful earthquake, geologists say, but there is no way to predict when it will strike. Yet as Japan has demonstrated, it is possible to detect the start of a quake and alert at least some potential victims moments before the most damaging shocks hit. That country's detection and warning system helped minimize the casualties from the massive quake off its coast in 2011, although the resulting tsunami claimed thousands of lives.
Last week, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the California Institute of Technology and UC Berkeley, backed by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), called on the state to develop a similar system. They want to upgrade the existing California Integrated Seismic Network, a joint effort by federal, state and university geologists to monitor seismic activity along multiple fault lines, to deliver alerts to the public when a sizable quake strikes. It's an idea worth pursuing, although policymakers shouldn't minimize the challenges that remain. (Read more...)
Earthquake alert system may be coming
January 28, 2013
David Perlman, San Fransisco Chronicle
An early warning system that flashes imminent danger that a damaging earthquake is about to strike is ready to operate in California, seismic experts said Monday as a legislator introduced a Senate bill to develop the first $80 million system across the state.
After 10 years of research and testing, the system called ShakeAlert could warn emergency workers and the public as much as a full minute before a big quake ruptures the ground along any of the faults in the state, the experts said. More...
California's faults have synchronized bursts of movement
December 12, 2012
Twenty years after the Loma Prieta earthquake, seismologists are still learning from the faults that zigzag across California. Now, new information on the movements of two of these faults suggests they are shaking in tandem.
Some of the worst earthquakes in California have occurred along the San Andreas Fault, including the disastrous 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In 1989, the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake shook Northern California, with an epicenter about 70 miles south of San Francisco.
Different sections of the 810-mile San Andreas Fault move at different rates. Some stretches, like the 150 miles between Loma Prieta and Parkfield, typically creep along. The two sides move steadily past each other, the friction creating mini-quakes that are barely felt.
BART puts early earthquake warning system to use
Septempber 25, 2012
KRCR News Channel 7
BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO)--UC Berkeley seismologists will be testifying in Congress later this week, urging the government to build and pay for an early earthquake warning system which they've developed. BART, which is now using the system, just launched it a couple of months ago. It has become the first train system in the country to incorporate the early earthquake warning system.
The siren gives a minute's warning before a quake hits, enough time to protect yourself. Sound futuristic? Well, it's not. That technology is already here. Seismic scientists from UC Berkeley have successfully tested it. They've planted sensors all over the Bay Area which can detect seismic waves from an earthquake's epicenter.
Electronic alerts are sent over the internet to end users like BART. The train system has developed a software program that analyses that data, then automates a response. "We then use that software to initiate a command through our central computer that sends a command to the field that puts the trains into breaking mode and limits them to 25 miles per hour at top speed," BART Chief Engineer Carlton Allen said
Warning where the Big One will hit
December 8, 2011
University of California Research
by Wallace Ravven
UC Berkeley is partnering with two other universities, a philanthropic foundation and industry to conduct earthquake research that could lead to a warning system. People could then have time to dive for cover, and transportation and utility systems could shut down operations.
A major fault ruptures somewhere along the 70-mile-long Hayward Fault. But where? Is the break at just one point along the restless slab, or many?
Answers are crucial to predicting where the worst shock will hit and how much damage it will cause. The underground details can provide a precious five- to 30-second warning between the time a temblor is detected and when its destructive energy reaches the surface.
Quake warning system for West Coast nears reality
November 30, 2011
Contra Costa Times
by Suzanne Bohan
The devastating 1868 Hayward fault earthquake shook loose the first plausible idea for warning people of imminent ground shaking.
A Bay Area physician proposed using telegraph cables into San Francisco to transmit energy from an earthquake to ring a warning bell.
A high-tech version of that idea is finally close to reality along the West Coast.
This summer, UC Berkeley, the U.S. Geological Survey and two other universities began testing a prototype earthquake warning system. It would alert people, hospitals, transit systems and factories seconds to a minute before a major quake.
Seismic Concerns In San Francisco
October 29, 2011
KRCR News Channel 7