Monday, March 28, 2011

Help Detect Earthquakes With Your PC, Laptop or Smartphone: Academia Sinica Leads the Way in South East Asia

A workshop entitled “Asia@Home” held at Academia Sinica on March 20-21 brought together Taiwanese and international experts in earthquake science and in distributed computing to explore the use of ordinary consumer electronics – PCs, laptops and even smartphones – to build earthquake sensor networks in homes, schools and offices that can provide scientists with valuable data about future seismic events in Taiwan and SE Asia.

Aftershocks off the coast of Japan, all at more than magnitude 4, captured by the Quake Catcher Network

Courtesy of Carl Christensen, Quake-Catcher Network project

The recent tragic earthquake in Christchurch is a reminder of the destructive forces that underlie the “Rim of Fire” extending through SE Asia as far as New Zealand. Getting a better understanding of how earthquakes will affect different regions requires more data and more computing power. Both can be provided by volunteers from their homes, thanks to a trend called “volunteer computing”, which Academia Sinica has been pioneering in Taiwan through a series of Asia@Home workshops over the last three years.

At the workshop, Californian researchers David Anderson (UC Berkeley), Carl Christensen (UC Berkeley) and Elizabeth Cochran (UC Riverside), presented results of their QuakeCatcher project that uses built-in or USB motion sensors on ordinary computers to form a new type of sensor network. In future, even school children in Taiwan and neighbouring countries could become part of a “citizen science” network that collects useful earthquake data.

The researchers also discussed with their Taiwanese and SE Asian counterparts how home computers could help to calculate the impact of earthquakes in advance, helping authorities to better plan the use of their territory in many SE Asian countries.

Researchers in Taiwan are planning to use volunteer computing to visualise the motion of earthquakes after they occur. They hope this will cut the time of creating ‘shake movies’ from a few hours to just minutes, providing valuable information to rescuers once an earthquake has occurred.

As recent events in Japan have shown, earthquakes and their effects can have devastating consequences. For those countries located on the so-called Ring of Fire, detailed information on seismic events is vital for rescue efforts, education and outreach as well as for research into future events.

Shake movies play an important part in this effort. As animations which show the ground motion of seismic events, shake movies simulate what you feel on the ground during an earthquake. They provide information as to where the strongest shaking has occurred, helping to ensure rescue efforts and resources are directed to where they are most needed.

Researchers create shake movies by performing calculations on models of earthquakes as well as the earth’s structure. However the production process is computationally intensive, taking a few hours to create a movie on a large computing cluster.

In order to cut down the time taken to create these movies, researchers at the Institute of Earth Sciences at Academia Sinica, Taipei, plan to use volunteers to donate idle computing cycles through a new initiative called called Shakemovie@home. The initiative follows in the footsteps of other successful volunteer computing projects such as SETI@home, which searches for extra-terrestrial signals among radio telescope data.

In Shakemovie@Home volunteers’ computers will be used to retrieve essential functions needed to create new shake movies. Called Green’s functions, these elements are a key part of creating shake movies but can take a long time to calculate for every event. However as Green’s functions depend only on the earth’s model, not on the earthquakes themselves researchers can compute, save and store them in advance, simply retrieving them as and when they are needed.

As the retrieval process is simple to carry out, Academia Sinica researchers plan to farm this out to volunteers who have signed up to Shakemovie@Home. By simply retrieving, rather than calculating the Green’s function every time a new shake movie is made they will cut down the time taken from a few hours to just minutes.

“Shake movies need to be both accurate and fast so that rescue efforts can be better directed and resources better allocated. By distributing this task to volunteers to computers at home we can get a better and faster way of making shake movies. Now we have shake movies in a few hours but with volunteer computing we could have it in minutes.” says Professor Li Zhao of the Institute of Earth Sciences, Academia Sinica and leader of Shakemovie@home.

Source: E-Science Talk

No comments:

Post a Comment