Did You Feel It?

By Martin Luff (Flickr: Earthquake damage - road) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Earthquakes happen with astonishing frequency, and yet remain nearly impossible to predict. It is also difficult to determine what effect an earthquake might have, as evidenced by recent events in California. Although Californians have invested a lot into quake mitigation measures, a 6.0 temblor earlier this month nevertheless caused billions of dollars in damage when it struck the heart of the state's wine industry in Napa Valley.

A US Geological Survey (USGS) website hopes to change that. A project called "Did You Feel It?" wants you to contribute your earthquake experience to the site, to create a more detailed and immediate account of where a quake is experienced.

How will your data help? You have probably heard quakes described in terms of their Richter magnitude (determined by measuring the amplitude of the earthquake waves as recorded by a seismograph), but a lesser-known measure looks at "intensity." Intensity is the strength of ground shaking at a particular site. In the US, researchers use the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale for this. By contributing information about what you felt, where, and when, you will give scientists a better picture of the shape and power of an event.

"By taking advantage of the vast numbers of Internet users," says the USGS site, "we can get a more complete description of what people experienced, the effects of the earthquake, and the extent of damage, than traditional ways of gathering felt information."

In spite of its US origins, the site is collecting data for quakes around the world. To participate, the next time you feel an earthquake, simply go to http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/dyfi/, and find your quake event by scrolling through the front page, or doing a search. Click the Did You Feel It? link for the quake, and fill in the form. You can also browse through other reports to see how other areas close you have been affected.

There is also a 2005 report on the citizen science contribution to the USGS here: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2005/3016/

--

Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can connect with her on Twitter @chandraclarke.