A.I. and neural networks — better earthquake predictions or detection?

RIDGECREST, CA — The Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck southern California on July 4, 2019 at 10:34 am local time (17:34 UTC). The closest large population center is Ridgecrest, population 28,000. Strong to very-strong shaking and damage was reported there.  Shaking from the earthquake was felt by millions of people across the region, including the greater Los Angeles and Las Vegas areas. Early estimates for damage range from ten to one hundred million dollars.

USGS reports this event continues to trigger many aftershocks, but these will decrease in frequency over time. It is likely there will be 50 to 700 aftershocks or smaller earthquakes during the next week, with magnitude 3 or higher aftershocks. Magnitude 3 and above are large enough to be felt near the epicenter.

 

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USGS map (above) shows epicenter and surrounding areas from the July 4, 2019 southern California earthquake.

Scientists recently have discovered new ways to leverage Internet-of-Things (IoT) technologies, sensor networks, and artificial intelligence (AI)  to improve earthquake detection. According to the World Economic Forum,  one team of scientists named their new AI system ConvNetQuake, which is the first neural network designed to detect and locate earthquakes. Their specialized algorithm assesses ground motion measurements known as seismograms and determines whether or not seismic activity is just “noise” or an actual earthquake.

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Historically, it has been difficult to detect very small earthquakes due to this noise, but ConvNetQuake can now make these distinctions. For testing, researchers used seismic activity from Oklahoma to train and test ConvNetQuake which someday could provide the earliest detection possible yielding better predictions for advance warnings.

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For Southern California,  a magnitude 6.4 earthquake will produce an aftershock as large as magnitude 5.4, and about 10 aftershocks with magnitude 4.4 or larger on average. Earthquakes of this size will cause damage, particularly close to the rupture. USGS estimates a 9 percent chance of one or more aftershocks of magnitude 6.4 or larger in the next week.

USGS operates a 24/7 National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado that can be reached for additional information at 303-273-8500.

— Source and photo credits: USGS and NABG-US, public domain.

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