USGS seeks hosts for community seismographs

Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and colleagues.


Living on a volcanically active island, earthquakes are part of our lives. Most of the time, these earthquakes are small — too small for us feel. Every once in a while, we feel a good jolt from a relatively large earthquake that almost everyone on the island is all kapakahi (messed up).

But, what about those “in-between” earthquakes? The ones where you are not really sure if you felt an earthquake, and no one else around you seemed to notice any shaking?

Seismologists use seismographs to objectively record ground motion and locate earthquakes. There are approximately 80 seismograph stations on the Island of Hawaii, most of which are located near volcanic vents and rift zones. These stations are usually far away from heavily populated areas, so the chances of having one near you are low.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a personal seismograph nearby that you could check to see what the ground was doing? This could help you determine if you really did feel that earthquake. It could also let you see just how many earthquakes are happening underneath you that normally go unnoticed.

If that sounds like something you are interested in, HVO is looking for volunteers to host a small seismograph. Host sites should ideally be communal hubs — such as schools, libraries, parks, museums, or other such public institutions.

These instruments require a steady AC power supply and a wired Ethernet connection to transmit small packets of seismic data to a centralized server. The monthly power consumption and data usage are typically not enough to be a noticeable increase. The instrument should sit directly on the ground or hard surface, and away from heavily trafficked areas.

The Youth and Education in Science (YES) program at USGS, in collaboration with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), is launching “Bridging Local Outreach and Seismic Signal Monitoring” (BLOSSM), a community outreach and educational project in Hawaii. BLOSSM aims at engaging local students and communities through seismology.

Upward Bound, a program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, recently partnered with HVO in leveraging emerging technology in their classroom. Ten high school students from Hawaii (4), Guam (5), and California (1), received personal seismographs during their summer STEMulate course, in a virtual online classroom. Using a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach, the students worked in groups to address real geologic hazards affecting their local communities. Some students integrated Hawaiian and Chamorro chants and cultures in their approach, affirming that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) should serve to benefit the community.

If you would like to host one of these personal seismographs or would like more information, please contact with the subject line “BLOSSM.” All recorded seismic data and the approximate location of the site will be made publicly available online.

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