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UW seeks Seattle volunteers to host earthquake detectors at their homes

(File, Associated Press)

Seattleites are reminded on an almost weekly basis of impending earthquake doom, and nothing would bring that closer to home more than hosting a seismometer in your basement. It will be literally the most sensitive resident of your house.

The University of Washington is looking for citizens volunteers to open their doors to mini seismic stations for about three to six weeks, in order to measure how the Puget Sound basin amplifies shaking from a large earthquake. It will enable them to learn how seismic waves travel underground and why one area might shake harder than another.

UW researchers have six very sensitive seismometers that are looking to shack up in homes on hard floors, like in a garage or a basement (and not, for instance, a bouncy castle). They’re about the size of a cooler, use about as much power as a night light, and would take about an hour to install.

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The seismometers can detect both slow and fast shaking, but if you’re worried that anything in your house will impact the measurements — like jumping jacks or a rock tumbler — there’s no need to worry. Tiptoeing around the sensitive instruments isn’t necessary.

“We tested it in our own basement and had it right by our washing machine, and with a newborn in the house we did a lot of laundry,” said Alex Hutko, a research scientist with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network based at the University of Washington. “But looking at the early data, it was surprising how much good data we got from just one week.”

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At the moment, Woodland Park Zoo has a seismometer of its own (not in a cage, presumably), and several North Seattle sites have them as well. The UW team plans to remove the equipment soon and install the six instruments at other locations, and hopes to expand it to look at other sedimentary basins in Tacoma, Everett, and elsewhere.

Along with these tests, the PNSN has also updated their tremor monitoring system, which now has a lower detection threshold (detecting more tremors than before), and the greater ability to detect the strength of a tremor.

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“Since this region has so few earthquakes, we have to study the small seismic events and then extrapolate to how the ground may shake during larger earthquakes,” said Joan Gomberg, a UW affiliate associate professor of Earth and space sciences with the U.S. Geological Survey.

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