Mobile app detects tremors to save lives in earthquakes

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Scottish scientists have developed a special mobile application that can make the death toll from earthquakes less dramatic.

The application can detect even tiny tremors under the ground, and it will tell you when the next earthquake may take place. Such an app would be useful for both natives and visitors of the countries with frequent earthquakes.

The information about the tremors is firstly sent to the University of Edinburgh, where the scientists analyze the buildings located nearby. They detect which areas will suffer the most and are able to save the lives of people who are be in those areas.

As the largest number of deaths from earthquakes is happening because people get trapped in collapsed buildings, such a technology can save thousands of lives. The team aims as the cooperation with the government that will send the resources to the buildings to rescue people.

A geophysicist from the geoscience school of the University of Edinburgh has said that the app starts automatically once you plug in a charger. When small earthquakes are registered, the scientists are able to detect the areas that may suffer from the bigger ones.

“For example, in the city of Kathmandu [in Nepal] we know there are some areas that are dangerous because of a soft sediment below buildings but we cannot see that on the surface.”

Professor McCloskey added: “We are not trying to identify when the earthquake will happen but to identify which buildings to target so we can intervene.”

An earthquake killed 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000 in Nepal last year, with many of the victims dying in unprotected buildings.

“The ground shaking varies a lot over very short distances,” Professor McCloskey said. “Often when we look at building damage there are two buildings identically constructed next to each other, and one is completely destroyed while the other is fine.

“The reason is not because the concrete is different but because the ground in different places amplifies the earthquake more.”

The app is being developed in collaboration with the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre at the university and could be ready for field work in three years.

“This is a really exciting time for seismologists looking to see the world in a much higher resolution picture,” Professor McCloskey added.

Yesterday scientists at the University of Edinburgh travelled to central Italy to conduct research following the earthquake that claimed 281 lives.

The 6.2-magnitude quake struck last week, levelling three small towns. A series of aftershocks hit the region in the days following the disaster, including one of a preliminary magnitude of 4.7.

The scientists will use seismometers to help to understand the science behind aftershocks.

Professor McCloskey said that the exercise would “make a real difference” to emergency response, adding: “We now know exactly what is needed scientifically, logistically and technologically; we just need to get organised better to do it every time.

“We are actively trying to get funding for this vital work now and hope it will be all in place for the next big earthquake. The rapid response to this earthquake is helping us understand the critical issues.”

Three Britons were among those killed in the earthquake in Italy — Marcos Burnett, 14, and Maria and Will Henniker-Gotley, a married couple.

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