In the wake of the unlucky string of earthquakes around the world, I thought it would be appropriate to write about the Quake-Catcher Network (QCN). QCN is a collaborative initiative for developing the world's largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers.
The premise of the network is pretty simple and the QCN website does a pretty good job of simplifying it for us laymen: Many laptops currently have a Sudden Motion Sensors or Active Protection Systems inside them. While these sensors were originally designed to help protect the computer's hard disk in case they are dropped or shaken, seismologists can use them to detect earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links participating laptops into a single coordinated network that can detect and analyze earthquakes faster and better than ever before. The laptop network and desktop network is the least expensive seismic network in the world. Because volunteers (individuals like you) donate idle CPU time on laptops with these sensors already built in, each additional sensor doesn’t cost a thing!
Volunteers simply download the software and allow it to idle while they use their computer as they usually would. Their computers are connected to the QCN over the internet. Typically, their personal laptop monitors the data locally for new high-energy signals and only sends a single time and a single significance measurement for strong new signals. When the server receives a bunch of these times and significance measurements all at once, then it is likely that an earthquake is happening. If the server receives only a time and significance measurement from one laptop, then the server knows the laptop was shaken by something smaller and more local (did they drop the laptop or did somebody slam the door?).
As with any initiative this ambitious, the concept only works if people participate and join the network.
If you want to join Quake Catcher Network, you can learn more about it here.