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The US is using Twitter to detect earthquakes

When properly filtered, quake-related tweets can trigger alerts in areas without sensors

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The US Geological Survey (USGS) has begun using data from Twitter to detect earthquakes. In a blog post published this week, Twitter explains how the USGS, the government body responsible for tracking seismic activity, used the company's public API to identify earthquakes across the world based on tweets that users post.

The USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) relies on about 2,000 earthquake sensors, but they're largely located in the US, which means a lot of the world goes uncovered. Paul Earle, a USGS seismologist, and software developer Michelle Guy studied earthquake-related tweets, and found that users tweeting about real earthquakes tend to keep their posts short — seven words or fewer. They also found that users who are actually experiencing earthquakes don't includes links or details about magnitude in their tweets.

With these filters applied, Earle and Guy found that Twitter data can be an effective way of detecting earthquakes, typically delivering alerts in under two minutes. In 2014, they used tweets to detect an earthquake in Napa, California in 29 seconds, and are now looking to more closely integrate Twitter data in their seismic algorithms.

"It's not a revolutionary change in what we do," Earle told CNN this week, "but it just gives us that extra minute to start on our response."