Geologists Use Twitter to Study Quakes

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The US Geological Survey has announced that it’s using Twitter to measure the human response to earthquakes in real time, and in turn to deduce the force of a quake in different areas at different times.

The BBC is reporting that the US Geological Survey is sorting through the increased volume of data that hits Twitter from effected areas during earthquakes. While it could lead to some very interesting results, it seems as though the USGS is fairly quick to emphasise the fact that it’s all experimental for now, the data won’t be boiled down into hard facts for now.

The BBC is reporting that the USGS’s Dr. Paul Earle has his reservations about the project’s accuracy, but that the speed with which responses hit Twitter is unparalleled. Earle said of the difference between Twitter and more regular scientific methods of measuring quakes,

“Twitter messages start coming out in the seconds after an earthquake whereas, depending on the region, scientifically derived information can take 2-20 minutes.”

Certainly it’s an interesting project, but the fact is that, for many users, an event like an earthquake will be as traumatic an event as they’re likely to encounter, regardless of magnitude (that is, unless it’s in an area where quakes are more frequent). This means that your most accurate data is going to be recovered from geo-tagging in the tweets, rather than tweets themselves, which will potentially provide different information depending on the use of hyperbole.

If nothing else, it’s a curious use of a popular service, and one that could well help find something genuinely interesting and helpful, but for now we’ll have to take a “wait and see” approach.

If you’d like to read more, you should check out the article over at the BBC that goes into some more detail on tracking tweets about earthquakes and filtering them to cut out the chaff.

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2 Responses to “Geologists Use Twitter to Study Quakes”

  1. Kevin Says:

    I would say you’re more likely to get messages about Britney then an actual earthquake at this stage.

    And surely bigger earthquakes won’t register on twitter for a little bit afterwards. My first thought in a quake wouldn’t be to update my status!

    • komplettie Says:

      Very true, I’m sure that the whole idea is a charming one, but it hardly seems practical. Still, the idea that there’s a real use for Twitter in such an unlikely area of study is really engaging 😛

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