Grant to finance earthquake warning system

Dec. 1, 2011 at 3:11 PM
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SEATTLE, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- The University of Washington says a $2 million grant may lead to an earthquake warning system for the Pacific Northwest in as little as three years.

Part of the grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will be used to place 24 sensors that combine motion detection with GPS readings to record the first signals from any major earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone, just off the Pacific Coast from northern California to southern British Columbia, a university release said Tuesday.

"The main point is to spot a big earthquake at the time it starts. The main motivation for these stations is Puget Sound," John Vidale, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, said.

A warning of strong shaking from a coastal quake, even if only minutes in advance, could, for example, allow a doctor to halt a surgery, allow trains to be stopped before they reach vulnerable bridges, and give time for sensitive equipment to be shut down before suffering significant damage, university researchers said.

The proposed system could detect a magnitude 7 or 7.5 earthquake within the first 30 seconds, Vidale said.

Such a quake could grow to a 9 magnitude as it spreads along a fault line, he said.

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