Predicting Earthquakes

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This summer, I have been interning at QuakeFinder, the Humanitarian R&D division of Stellar Solutions Inc. For the past 10 years, QuakeFinder has been building and installing stations around the world, in California, Taiwan, Greece, and Chile, in the attempts of collecting data and predicting earthquakes. QuakeFinder collects electromagnetic emissions using magnetometers dug in the ground and ion emissions using ion sensors mounted above the station in the air. Together, these emissions have shown signs of increase due to pre-stressing of faults before earthquakes, and there have been clear results where earthquakes have occurred after large abnormal spikes. The research is beginning to show some very exciting results as more earthquakes occur, providing data, and more sensing stations are installed.

However, magnetometers are very sensitive to any sort of electromagnetic noise, including lightning, cars, and trains. Much of this can be filtered out, but some areas are so contaminated that the data is useless. The ion sensors can still collect data in these areas, but there needs to be a new infrastructure for installing smaller ion sensor stations between the larger magnetometer stations. That’s where I come in. My project this summer has been designing a smaller ion sensor station that can be built and installed by high school students in their own backyards. This data will supplement the magnetometer data along major faults and provide a more complete picture of the activity in those faults. The small station must be able to withstand all kinds of weather, from rain to dust, and transmit data to QuakeFinder wirelessly. It’s a great challenge for me, and I’m really enjoying designing and testing this system.

Keep thinking!