A 3-state test is underway to confirm that a space-based GPS network can reliably provide faster earthquake and tsunami detection and early warning than the seismological method presently in use. The READI (Realtime Earthquake Analysis for Disaster) program is a collaboration of government agencies and leading universities.
According to a news release from NASA/JPL, “The new research network builds on decades of technology development supported by the National Science Foundation, the Dept. of Defense, NASA, and USGS. The network uses real-time GPS measurements from 500 stations throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. When a large earthquake is detected, GPS data are used to automatically calculate its vital characteristics, including location, magnitude, and fault rupture details.”
Institutions working with the U.S. government in developing the system include Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Central Washington University, University of Nevada Reno, Caltech, UNAVCO in Boulder, Colorado, and UC Berkeley.
The report states that accurate and rapid identification of earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and stronger is critical for effective disaster response, especially for tsunamis. A tsunami forms quickly after an undersea earthquake, and heads toward land at speeds as high as 600 mph (1,000kph). It’s urgent that warnings be issued to nearby population centers within minutes to give people a chance to move to higher ground.
Acquiring data quickly on earthquake strength, size, and ground movement for very large earthquakes has been a challenge for traditional seismological instruments, which measure ground shaking. High precision, second-by-second measurements of ground displacements using GPS have been shown to reduce the time it takes to indentify large earthquakes, and to increase the accuracy and speed of tsunami warnings.
Following a successful test phase, the intent of USGS and NASA is to expand the system to the entire Pacific Basin, which includes the Ring of Fire where most earthquakes and tsunamis occur.