How offshore sensors may save lives

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How offshore sensors may save lives

Ocean Networks Canada’s new earthquake early-warning system sets up
January 6, 2016

British Columbia’s coast, which hugs the eastern reaches of the seismically active Ring of Fire, experiences thousands of small- to medium-sized earthquakes each year. Seismologists predict that this area is due for “the big one,” an earthquake of a magnitude of up to 9.0.
A comprehensive earthquake early-warning system doesn’t yet exist in Canada, but researchers at the University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) have made great strides.

The network of world-leading cabled ocean observatories has developed a real-time earthquake and tsunami notification system that could give vital seconds of warning to residents of southern coastal B.C. — before any major shaking begins. The system is made up of a series of offshore and onshore seismic sensors that run along the coast of southern B.C. and are connected to the internet. These instruments can detect the first signs of an earthquake and give notifications about incoming shaking. While the warning may give only a moments notice, even a few seconds is enough time to automatically shut off gas lines, slow down trains, pause elevators, stop surgeries and block traffic from tunnels — enough time to save lives.

ONC is the only organization in Canada that has off-shore earthquake sensors close to the Cascadia subduction zone where the Juan de Fuca and North American plates converge. Known as the Cascadia Fault, this area can produce megathrust earthquakes. There is evidence that the last megathrust earthquake in B.C. happened in 1700. It is critical that communities along the B.C. coast are prepared for this kind of event since scientists believe it is a matter of time before another “big one” rumbles through.