Scientists will use football fans to simulate quake
Scientists will use football fans to simulate quake As several pieces of seismic monitoring equipment sit on the floor, a scientist does a "stomp test" to check the gear at the Seattle Seahawks' field. At left, a scientist points out a seismogram display on a monitor (AP photos)
Scientists will use football fans to simulate quake
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The jumps, stomps and roars of fans cheering on the Seattle Seahawks have been known to shake the ground around CenturyLink Field. Now scientists will use expected fan quakes during a game to experiment with an earthquake early warning system.

Scientists first noticed the earth shaking around the Seahawks' stadium during a 2011 playoff game. That's when running back Marshawn Lynch broke eight tackles and ran 67 yards during a 13-second play against the New Orleans Saints. That run was considered one of the most impressive in NFL history. It sparked a very big fan reaction. It was big enough to create a seismic tremor recorded near the stadium. Fans jumped and stomped their way to a magnitude -1 or -2 earthquake.

It became known as the "Beast Quake." That's because of Lynch's nickname.

"We became interested of what we could see if we put the instruments closer, right in the stadium with people in the stands," said John Vidale. He works for the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

University of Washington scientists with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network have installed three instruments in the stadium. Two are up in the stands and one is by the playing field. Seismologists have used such instruments at the stadium in the past. But this year's experiment features faster connectivity and readings.

A new tool called "QuickShake" is expected to display vibrations within three seconds. That is five to 10 times faster than the tool used with the sensors last year, the scientists said.

If a big play prompts a fan quake, viewers monitoring the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network's webpage will see the activity before they see it on television. That's because TV has about a 10-second delay during broadcast.

"The Seahawks experiment should provide us and the Internet-connected public with a feel for the minimum time early warning might provide," said Steve Malone. He is a UW professor emeritus of Earth and space sciences.

Besides giving fans the option of monitoring the earth movement around the stadium, the seismologists are hoping to test their website's traffic endurance and social media presence. It's an attempt to go through the information dissemination procedures they would use during a real earthquake.

"It's hard to simulate thousands of people using this tool all at once. When we can get a lot of people looking, we can see problems that we'd encounter during an actual earthquake," Vidale said.

The collective energy is created by tens of thousands of fans. They are jumping, clapping, stomping and swaying, which travels throughout the stadium. That shakes the ground underneath, scientists said.

Critical thinking challenge: Why can't scientists know for certain when they will see the results of their test?

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