March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Did You Feel It? and the Quake-Catcher Network: Gather and Contribute Data About Earthquakes in Your Front Yard and Schoolyard

Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Robert de Groot

It is 9:09 pm on Friday March 28, 2014 in Southern California and all of a sudden a magnitude (M) 5.1 earthquake strikes in the northwest corner of Orange County near the cities of La Habra and Fullerton. The Southern California Seismic Network swings into action collecting data about the event. The event is widely felt and many people put into practice what they learned during the Great California ShakeOut the statewide earthquake drill held every third Thursday of October – Drop, Cover, and Hold On.

You Feel It Event Page for the M 5.1 LaHabraEarthquake (courtesy: USGS)

You Feel It Event Page for the M 5.1 LaHabraEarthquake (courtesy: USGS)

After the shaking ends, everyone checks for injuries and damage. Then many submit data of what they felt during the earthquake on the United States Geological Survey’s Did You Feel It? website. This site leverages the abundant information available about earthquakes from the people who actually experience them. By taking advantage of the vast numbers of Internet users, the USGS can get a more complete description of what people experienced, the effects of the earthquake, and the extent of damage than was available in the past.

Within two hours after the March 28, 2014 magnitude 5.1 event there are over 30 aftershocks. The earthquake shakes all nine high schools of the Chaffey Joint Union High School District (CJUHSD), located 60 km east of Los Angeles.

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However, something else is also shaking at the schools.

In 2013, CJUHSD Superintendent Mat Holton and Assistant Superintendent Tim Ward agreed to have seismometers from the Quake Catcher Network installed in all of their schools.

Quake Catcher Network Logo

Quake Catcher Network Logo

The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing motion sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. The QCN is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers to a real-time motion-sensing network.The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called micro electro-mechanical systems, (MEMS), accelerometers and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong motions are observed.QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC). QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise.QCN provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes.

Earth science teacher Bernadette Vargas (CSTA member) from Etiwanda High School, having felt the earthquake herself, signs into her account on the QCN website and she discovers that five of the high schools in the CJUHSD generated records from the earthquake. The seismogram shown here is from Montclair High School. She creates a report for her colleagues, which shares basic information about the earthquake, which schools in the district detected the event, and how to interpret the data. She explains that the blue record shows movement on the z-axis (up/down), the yellow on the y-axis, and the green on the x-axis.

Montclair High School (CJUHSD) seismogram from the M 5.1 La Habra Earthquake (courtesy: QCN)

Montclair High School (CJUHSD) seismogram from the M 5.1 La Habra Earthquake (courtesy: QCN)

The result on the following Monday: a teachable moment like no other. Many of the students felt the earthquake but not all of them felt the same thing – why? In several earth science classrooms in the CJUHSD a lively discussion about the difference between earthquake magnitude and intensity ensued. Copies of Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country published by the Southern California Earthquake Center were distributed. Not only did the students review the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety they also learned about the factors that influence what one feels during an earthquake.

The seismograms recorded by five of the CJUHSD high schools provided an opportunity for science educators to do other interpretive activities with students including a review of the behavior of seismic waves and how the locations earthquakes can be determined.

Vargas and her colleagues have been putting into practice strategies to implement NGSS in creative and innovative ways such as utilizing QCN data collected from events in their front yards and schoolyards.

An indispensable component of the QCN partnership between earthquake researchers and the CJUHSD is the support from the district’s information technology professionals. Director of Technical Support Marc Moya and his capable team assisted with the installation of the sensors and with troubleshooting software issues. Not only has Marc and his team embraced the importance of contributing data to better understanding earthquakes, they are also participating in a collaborative effort that focuses on improving student learning by providing opportunities to interact with authentic data.

California is Earthquake County and participation in the ShakeOut and other activities that promote preparedness and resilience are essential components of a K-12 education. Vargas, Moya, and others recognize that engaging students in real-time activities such as Did You Feel It and QCN complement and enhance these activities by providing students with opportunities to participate in authentic STEM-based learning experiences.

For more information about QCN visit the program’s website or contact Robert de Groot. 

Robert de Groot is Education Program Manager at the Southern California Earthquake Center, an NSF+USGS Center at the University of Southern California and a member of CSTA.
 

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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