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Citizen seismology
The Raspberry Shake, a modern seismometer
Image Credit: Angel Rodriguez

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Citizen seismology

Showing each other seismometers at the meeting

Image Credit: Aftab Khan

If you have a smartphone in your pocket, you could be a citizen scientist. Aftab Khan and colleagues discuss how seismology can benefit from new technology.

The power and potential of seismometers for both citizen science and education was demonstrated at an international discussion meeting supported by the British Geophysical Association in February this year. Speakers focused on projects developed to educate young people in areas of high seismic hazard such at New Zealand, and on phone apps such as LastQuake that both informs and reassures people who feel an earthquake and feeds their location and the fact that they felt the quake into wider seismic monitoring programmes. 

The rise of citizen seismology owes a lot to clever technology. Smartphones contain accelerometers (used for location with global satellite navigation systems) that can be used as seismometers (and for other geophysical measurements), and a lot of people carry phones with them everywhere. But there have also been developments in the design of seismometers, such as using Raspberry Pi computers.  These cheap and widely available devices mean that seismometers can be built and set up everywhere, in schools, for example, giving pupils the opportunity to fond out how they work and use them to study quakes first hand. 

The meeting and the report in A&G demonstrates that this field is growing fast, and that there are abundant opportunities for researchers to get involved and recruit citizen seismologists. Citizen science has brought huge benefits to astronomy, planetary science and climatology, for example; it engages a whole range of people including those who would not attend star parties or lectures. Geophysics could benefit for the wider knowledge and appreciation of what the subject can do. 

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