Questions for ‘Phoning in earthquakes’

This map identifies (in blue) the computers in phones and other devices collecting ground-motion data for the Quake-Catcher Network. Red dots mark previously detected quakes.

Quake-Catcher Network


Before reading:

1)    The ground shaking produced by an earthquake can vary greatly with the distance from the quake’s origin. The soil and rock conditions also can play a role. Why do you think that is?

2)    Imagine you had a limited budget to spend on scientific sensors to measure a natural phenomenon that affects a large area. Would you buy a single, expensive but very accurate sensor? Or would you choose to buy multiple, cheaper — yet far less accurate — sensors? Explain your answer.

During reading:

1)    What awoke Qingkai Kong on August 24, 2014?

2)    Define epicenter.

3)    Why makes citizen-science projects special?

4)    Would a magnitude-2 earthquake wake people up? Why or why not?

5)    How and why are seismographs becoming easier to deploy?

6)    Explain the advantages of creating dense networks of seismometers.

7)    When can you see a smartphone’s accelerometer at work?

8)    Why did different Quake-Catcher sensors record different shaking from location to location during the September 2014 Alaska quake?

9)    What is the goal of retrofitting a building?

10)  How is it that digital communications can outrace seismic waves?


1)    Explain how an early-warning system for earthquakes would work. Could it provide an adequate warning for everyone affected by a quake? Use information in the story to explain why or why not?

2)    If you had a three-second warning of a coming earthquake, what would you do to ensure your own safety? What sorts of things would you hope could happen automatically in and around your community to reduce a quake’s impact?



1)    Locate Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Anchorage on a map. What things do these U.S. cities have in common that might make them so prone to earthquakes?