Simanaitis Says

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CELLPHONES ARE so reliable now that we rarely ask, “Can you hear me now?” However, Science magazine, April 28, 2021, reports that “New Google Effort Uses Cellphones to Detect Earthquakes,” by Paul Voosen. 

Voosen says, “Google is getting further into the business of saving lives. Today, the internet giant announced that users of its Android phones in New Zealand and Greece will receive warnings of damaging earthquakes about to strike their locations. And those earthquakes will be detected not by the usual seismometers, but by the phones themselves.”

Magic? Yes, this sounds like magic. But remember that a modern cellphone contains an accelerometer to identify when a user rotates the device for a different view. Voosen writes, “… those motion sensors can also be programmed to act as rudimentary seismometers, detecting the distinctive shaking caused by the pressure and shear waves of earthquakes.”

A Useful App, Not Without Challenges. “So far,” Voosen says, “Android phones have detected more than 1000 quakes worldwide.” Challenges include detecting quakes offshore or in sparsely settled areas. Also, it’s a challenge for the app to separate a real quake from a cellphone’s own inherent vibration in response to AMBER Alerts in the U.S. 

“Did you feel me then?” New Zealand’s South Island experienced a 7.8 earthquake in 2016. Image by Reuters/Anthony Phelps from Science, April 28, 2021.

Voosen notes, “And whereas a traditional earthquake warning system only needs four seismic stations to detect a quake, more than 100 phones need to sound the alarm before Google believes it.”  

“Once such a quake is detected,” he says, “loud, full-screen alerts go out to phones located in regions that, based on traditional physics-based seismic projections, should receive shaking strong enough to be felt and break windows or dishes.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

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