MyShake App: Detecting Earthquakes Using Smartphones

Elizabeth Borneman


Scientists at UC Berkeley are attempting to utilize the power of social media to detect earthquakes in real time. The researchers are hoping to find a way to quickly gather massive amounts of cell phone data from people during earthquakes using social media, twitter, and text messages. The MyShake app is one way scientists are trying to create a safer network of earthquake warnings around the world.

The app sends data to the researchers when the smartphone picks up seismic activity. Once the app has enough information scientists can use the data to alert other people on the app that an earthquake is minutes or even seconds away from hitting their area. The app utilizes crowdsourced data to build the system’s database of information.

The App Uses a Phone’s Accelerometer to Detect Earthquakes

The app uses a feature of smartphones called the accelerometer, which detects whether the phone is horizontal or vertical. This helps with games people may play on their phones as well as with screen rotation. The accelerometer eliminates random movement of the phone when in a user’s bag or when dropped; the phone can, however, detect the unique seismic vibrations of an earthquake.

Screenshot of the MyApp earthquake application showing current sensor readings.
Three accelerometers aboard every smartphone detect shaking, and the MyShake app analyzes it to make sure it fits the pattern of an earthquake before alerting the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

Researchers hope that the app will progress enough to eventually be able to not only alert users of coming earthquakes, but will also allow alerts to be sent to train conductors, doctors in hospitals, and to people in elevators.

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The app and other earthquake early warning systems are very much ongoing projects, especially on the west coast of the United States. The scientists behind the MyShake app hope to unroll the app to include other earthquake prone cities like Kathmandu in Nepal.


Watch the video about MyShake:

YouTube video


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.