Quake-Catcher Network Harnesses Home Computers

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By Lily Whiteman
National Science Foundation

Areas covered by Quake-Catcher Network computers as of April 2012. Each computer is a seismic station, providing the physical infrastructure, computer, Internet connection, power, location and measurement of seismic activity. Credit: The Quake-Catcher Network

Citizen scientists are helping to improve scientists' understanding of how Earth works by collecting statistics and observations that full-time scientists don't have the people power and other resources to gather.

Some citizen-science programs take volunteers under their wings and into the field to gatherdata. Others, such as the Quake-Catcher Network (QCN), are more of the "hands-free" genre, only requiring volunteers to connect their computers to networks that do the data collection and analysis.

QCN is a collaborative effort among five academic institutions, plus the U.S. Geological Survey. Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, the QCN organizes volunteers who each host a low-cost vibration sensor on an Internet-connected desktop or laptop computer. The home-based stations automatically send QCN servers information in real time about ground tremors related to moderate-to-large earthquakes.


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