What’s Shaking

Image courtesy of USGS

The Raspberry Shake is not a new type of smoothie, but a new tool for detecting earthquakes and other seismic activity. Developed by a startup in Panama, the Raspberry shake is a powerful tool for people interested in earthquakes and citizen science. The Raspberry Shake, designed initially as a maker project for home use, has surprising sensitivity for a few hundred dollars., while professional grade equipment costs 10 to a 200 times as much. One high school earth science teacher was watching livestream of a hip-hop festival at a stadium several miles away from his apartment. As he saw the crowd jumping up and down at the stadium several miles away, he pulled up his Raspberry Shake feed and could see the seismic effect of thousands of jumpers. Marc, the earth science teacher, says that while you might expect to see mostly just a flat line, there is always activity. The earth is always in motion, we just don’t normally perceive it.  The NYT reporter calls it “the unheard symphony of the planet.”

The New York Times reports that in addition to earth tremors, Shakers can pick up “cultural noise,” like the hip-hop conference.  Local construction projects, thunderclaps, and the neighbor’s powerlifting workouts show up on a Raspberry Shake. The United State Geological Survey (USGS), our official earthquake watchers, studied the Raspberry Shake and decided adding these devices to their network would extend their ability to collect data. They are even sponsoring schools and youth groups to monitor Raspberry Shakes for seismic data.

The Raspberry Shake comes in several varieties, but the device is a box with a Raspberry Pi computer board and one or more motion detectors attached to your computer. The basic model has one motion detector and more advanced models have up to three to also detect side-to-side motion. These detectors are basically weights attached to springs inside a cylinder.

Like many other digital tools, the Raspberry Shake, makes watching seismic activity available to geology enthusiasts, science classrooms, and citizen scientists. One Shaker, as they call themselves, bought one as a gift for his father in Australia so he could watch the seismic data when the Shaker moved his family to Southern California. His father, now also a confirmed Shaker, finds it reassuring to see the data firsthand rather than how the news reports describe it. For Ben, seeing the seismic activity in Australia, including when the train rumbles through his father’s town, finds it connects him to home. My mother, apprehensive when we moved to the Bay Area, home of the San Andreas Fault, would have liked that.

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