U.S. seismologists have found a new way to ‘follow’ earthquakes around the world in real-time: Twitter — the popular micro-blogging service that allows users to send messages in less than 140 characters.

Scientists at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) have recently noticed that Twitter users in seismically active areas of the world were quick to note and report any temblors and movements of the earth that they felt.

The experts say tapping into their ‘tweets’ on the website helps them pinpoint where and how brutally earthquakes hit, the science news website ‘LiveScience’ reported.

“Not only were ‘Twitterers’ quick to note quakes, there were reports that they were beating the USGS at getting out alerts of earthquake activity,” USGS scientist Paul Earle was quoted as saying.

“So after an earthquake they often rapidly report that an earthquake has occurred and describe the experience.” Michelle Guy, another scientist at USGS, said Twitter users in areas shaken by earthquakes typically begin tweeting in seconds while it can take as long as 20 minutes for data from sensors to be analyzed.

“The basic difference is speed versus accuracy,” Mr. Guy said.

Earlier this year, USGS scientists decided to see if they could harness this citizen science reporting and glean information about earthquakes from them. They presented their preliminary work at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Fransisco on Tuesday.

Earle and his colleagues have begun monitoring tweets by searching for keywords such as ‘earthquake’ after a seismometer somewhere in the world alerts them to the rupture of an earthquake.

Both the tweets themselves as well as the locations of the twitterers can tell scientists something, for example, how soon temblors were felt and how far away from an earthquake’s epicenter they extended.

After one minor temblor in southern California, the first tweet from the area that noted the shaking and simply read ’earthquake’ came just 13 seconds after seismometers registered the quake.

Earle said that quake tweets haven’t contributed much in the way of registering the degree of shaking or in well—monitored areas, but could help get out alerts in areas around the world that are less well—monitored or during earthquakes that are minor but felt over a wide area.


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