Seismic sensors to be increased on Peninsula, elsewhere

$10.4 million from USGS to help expand network

SEATTLE — Funding from the U.S. Geological Survey is expected to double the number of sensors in the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, including adding more on the North Olympic Peninsula.

The U.S. Geological Survey announced Monday $10.4 million in funding to the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN), based at University of Washington, to support the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system.

Some $7.3 million of the funding will go to UW with some of the funding going to new seismic sensors on the Olympic Peninsula.

The PNSN is responsible for monitoring earthquakes and volcanoes in Washington state and Oregon. It is a partnership between the University of Washington, the University of Oregon and the USGS.

The new award will fund installation of 104 new seismic stations in Washington state and 44 in Oregon during a two-year period, said Harold Tobin, director of the PNSN and professor in the UW’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences.

The greatest density of sensors currently is in the fault-rich Puget Sound area, said Tobin in a telephone interview Monday.

There are already some sensors in the ShakeAlert network on the Olympic Peninsula but plans call for a higher density along the coast for early warning of offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone tremors, he said.

Actual locations on the Peninsula are still to be worked out with some going on privately held land and others in Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park, Tobin said.

The funding also will support improved, more-sophisticated detection of earthquakes as they begin, and new efforts to engage potential users of the warnings.

The first year’s funding of $5.4 million to the PNSN begins this month.

UW will receive about $3.75 million in direct support of its PNSN activities and $1.66 million will support the PNSN team at the University of Oregon.

The second-year funding, an additional $5 million, is contingent on approval by Congress and will be similarly shared.

“This investment in the PNSN represents a major increase in federal support for earthquake monitoring in the Cascadia region,” Tobin said.

“At the end of the two years of funding we anticipate having essentially doubled the number of seismic stations across our whole region that contribute to real-time earthquake early warning,” Tobin said.

”This would allow for full public alerts of any potentially damaging earthquakes, across our entire region of Washington and Oregon, by the end of the two-year period.”

ShakeAlert’s network of instruments detect the first, less damaging waves from a major earthquake close to where the earthquake begins.

The system then issues alerts for the estimated size and location of the earthquake, providing seconds or minutes of warning before the more damaging ground shaking begins – enough for someone to pull off the road, stop a surgery, or find a safe place to take shelter.

In the Pacific Northwest’s pilot phase of the system, early adopters in the region have developed pilot projects with guidance and support from the PNSN and USGS, and have received ShakeAlert warning messages for the past two years.

These warnings are currently used to trigger loss-reduction measures at critical facilities — such as turning off water valves in public utility districts — before dangerous shaking would arrive.

The additional funding will support the development of new pilot projects in schools, businesses, communities and critical infrastructure facilities in preparation for the eventual goal of open alerts to the general public, as launched recently in the Los Angeles region.

The improvements to PNSN’s network supported by this funding will meet the USGS’ recommended station-density standard for public alerting in almost all areas of Washington and Oregon.

“It will enable us to rapidly build out our network to produce faster and more accurate alerts for Cascadia Region earthquakes,” Tobin said.

While ShakeAlert has been undergoing testing in California, the first large-scale public warning broadcasts in Washington are one to two years away, he said.

The funding also will support ongoing research to integrate GPS data into ShakeAlert, which will allow quicker estimates of the magnitude of offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquakes as they unfold.

UW is sharing its research in this area with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA in the hope of improving tsunami-warning capabilities.

The university is working with Central Washington University, also supported by USGS, to receive near-real-time GPS data from across Washington and Oregon that will be integrated into future releases of ShakeAlert.

The regional ShakeAlert effort began in 2011, when the UW joined the University of California, Berkeley and Caltech as a primary ShakeAlert center in the developing a West Coast warning system.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded $2 million to each university to kick-start ShakeAlert from a research project to an operational system. With support from Congress, the USGS ramped up support for ShakeAlert as the foundation’s seed funding expired.

Additional support for PNSN operations comes from the U.S. Department of Energy and the states Oregon and Washington.

The Washington legislature, in its current biennium budget, allocated $1.24 million over two years for additional enhancements to the ShakeAlert network.

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