CWU researchers develop space-based system to rapidly detect large earthquakes, tsunamis

Justin Zabel, Staff Reporter

CWU geophysicist Timothy Melbourne and his colleagues reported the development of a global earthquake monitoring system based on measurements of crustal deformation that can be detected by Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers.

“The monitoring system can rapidly assess earthquake magnitude and fault slip distribution within seconds for earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 and larger, making it a potentially valuable tool in earthquake and tsunami early warning for these damaging events,” Melbourne said in a press release.

This system has satellite orbits that will send a receiving message to the station on Earth giving them a warning that this is about to hit a section of the planet. This here will help prevent eruptions that will take place after the earthquake hits. 

This research that Melbourne and his colleagues constructed is the first of mankind to have sensors set up with the data, then have that data transmitted back to the internet connected devices.

“The researchers assessed their system over one typical week, using data from 1,270 receiver stations across the world,” Melbourne said. “They found that the average time it took data to travel from a receiver to the processing center at CWU was about half a second—from anywhere in the world. It took an average of about 1/200th of a second to convert that data into estimates of GNSS position.”

With this research that has been done, Melbourne and his colleagues found out that the biggest earthquakes can be prepared for within minutes before it even happens. This gives people time to prepare for cover and make sure they know when it may occur. 

GNSS has been used in construction and mining but it depends on the open-source data that is provided. However, there are times when countries have data which is sold to build and maintain these receivers.  

For instance, GNSS operators in New Zealand, Ecuador, Chile and elsewhere partner with Melbourne’s group, benefiting from the decade of work that the team has put into their GNSS positioning system. They send raw data from receivers in their countries to Central Washington, where Melbourne and colleagues position the data and send it back in under a second for their earthquake and tsunami monitoring, Melbourne said in the press release.