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Your garage or basement could help UW scientists study earthquakes

UW is looking for volunteers with garages and basements all around Puget Sound to help scientists study earthquakes.

Author: Ted Land

Published: 7:47 PM PDT June 7, 2019

Updated: 12:04 PM PDT June 9, 2019

K5 News SEATTLE — The University of Washington is looking for volunteers with garages and basements across Puget Sound to help scientists study earthquakes. 

They’re trying to paint a more vivid picture of what happens when the ground shakes.

In the garage of her parents’ Mercer Island home, Tessa Czech installed a seismic sensor, about the size of a cooler, which picks up vibrations in the ground.

Czech is studying Earth Sciences at Washington State University. But right now, she's interning at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, operated in part by UW. She's helping put equipment in homes all around Puget Sound, as part of an effort to get a better understanding of an earthquake's impacts.

“We need multiple locations in order to get that 3D image that we're looking for,” Czech said.

UW is looking for other volunteers who are willing to host sensors on their property for a month or so. The instruments take about an hour to install and need a concrete floor to sit on.

“Normally an urban environment is a terrible place to put a seismic instrument, because you want it to be seismically quiet; however, the technique we're using relies on background seismic noise, which is wind against buildings, trees, traffic, and it works extraordinarily well,” said Alex Hutko, a research scientist with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

The readings, coming in from multiple locations, help scientists learn more about the behavior of different soils, and how buildings react to shaking.

The Seattle basin, the focus of the study, can amplify earthquakes with potentially devastating effects.

“It's also like a bathtub where you throw a rock in there the waves go out and bounce off the edges, so the duration can be much longer as well,” Hutko said.

Sensors are already installed on Mercer Island, Bainbridge Island, Vashon Island, and near SeaTac. The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network plans to focus on the Tacoma region next, and says it especially needs volunteers near the Hood Canal.

Within minutes of installing the sensor in her parents’ garage, Czech was already getting readings. She hopped a few feet from the equipment and the vibrations showed up on a smartphone app.


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