NASA announced today that it has begun testing a GPS system designed to locate the precise position of serious earthquakes within the western US. Known as the Real-time Earthquake Analysis for Disaster (READI) Mitigation Network, the system gathers GPS data from more than 500 locations across California, Oregon, and Washington. Once a major earthquake is detected, the READI network uses this information to determine its exact location, and to ascertain important details about its magnitude, as well as the fault rupture.

The system was first introduced back in 2004, and was created as part of a collaboration among researchers at the University of California in San Diego, Central Washington University, the University of Nevada in Reno, Cal Tech, UNAVCO, and the University of California at Berkeley. The agency plans to test its prototype network over the course of this year, and if READI proves viable, it could help significantly reduce the time needed to accurately pinpoint and assess major earthquakes.

Rapid and accurate assessment is particularly crucial for tsunamis and earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and higher, as it can help alert citizens and mobilize rescue efforts. Most current detection systems rely on seismological instruments that measure the magnitude of the earth's movements, but recent research shows that GPS-based networks can drastically reduce the time needed to take these measurements, potentially reducing it to just a few minutes.

Once testing is complete, the READI network will be used across various natural disaster detection agencies, including the USGS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.