It certainly is nice to see social media being put to good use. Since 2009, the US Government Scientists (USGS) have teamed up with social media giant Twitter in receiving data on earthquakes. The USGS has about 2000 sensors planted in and outside the US listening to tiny movements in the earth’s crust. The responses vary. Sensors pick up movements and report back to the federal agency, but some are too small to cause panic. Sometimes, faulty sensors don’t quite pick up a signal. Other times, tremors happen in areas where there are no sensor through which to pick them up.
And here’s where Twitter comes in. Based on the types of tweets and the frequency thereof, the agency gets an alert about an earthquake. Backed by the data generated by Twitter, the seismologists can determine if is required to issue an alert to the greater public.
According to Paul Earle, a seismologist at the federal agency, “The data coming from Twitter is totally independent. It is a secondary check which would supplement the data coming in from the sensors”.
For example, last year, seismic sensors in California picked up a magnitude 5 earthquake — a slight rumble. USGS automatically placed the alert on its website. But when Earle looked through his Twitter alert system and didn’t see any unusual chatter, he realized something was wrong. It turns out that earthquake never really happened.
Together, these unlikely partners are working towards making the system even more sensitive towards earthquake readings and in turn, the issuance of effective early warnings to the public.
The full news item can be accessed here.