Home Emergency Management News Scientists: Data From 'Citizen Seismologists' Proving to be Valuable

Scientists: Data From 'Citizen Seismologists' Proving to be Valuable


A recent report from the Seismological Society of America (SSA) detailed the impact that is being felt across the field of seismology from a growing group of novice scientists and hobbyists known as "citizen seismologists."

Not only is the quantity of earthquake data that citizen scientists provide increasing, but the quality of the data is improving, too. "Citizen seismologists" is a loosely defined term, but generally includes people who supply information about earthquakes using tools like matchbook-sized sensors plugged into a desktop computers or provide input via social media, such as location-tagged tweets.

The topic of citizen seismology came up at the SSA's 2016 Annual Meeting April 20-22 in Reno, NV. A session at the conference had scientists discussing how crowd-sourced earthquake information has impacted the field.

"As researchers, we gain incredibly large amounts of data at very little cost from citizen seismology. But we also gain a new kind of data, since people are much more impact-oriented when it comes to earthquakes. We learn what people saw, what they felt, and what they went through as they experienced these seismic events." -- Michelle Guy, computer scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

According to the SSA, the impact of citizen seismologists has really been felt since the year 200.

Increase seen since the turn of the century

One reason for the increase in shared data from citizen seismologists since 2000 is the creation of dedicated online resources, such as the USGS' Did You Feel It? and other similar websites. The quick growth of online tools, the increasing sophistication of some of the online tools and the explosive growth of social media have all undoubtedly helped citizen seismologists get their data to the right place.

Now, data gathered by an independent source can potentially have multiple avenues to end up in a place where it can help further official research efforts.

Never too much data

Even in a place like Japan, the SSA noted, which has more than 5,000 strong-motion seismic stations, the impact of citizen seismology can be clearly seen. Shohei Naito, a researcher at Japan's National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention and speaker at the April SSA conference, said that seismologists often look to utilize citizen-based seismic data to help refine their reports and can use the additional data to help improve the quality of real-time damage estimates.

Guy pointed out the USGS' use of one specific type of citizen-based seismic data to further research -- tweets. According to Guy, the USGS makes use of tweets to locate and assess earthquakes across the world. Through the analysis of aggregate twitter data, it is possible to detect small earthquakes even before seismic instruments detect the quake -- especially in locations where seismometer coverage can be relatively sparse.

Matt Mills Matt Mills has been involved in various aspects of online media, both on the editorial side and on the technology side, for more than 16 years. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and is currently involved in multiple projects focused on innovation journalism.