Scientists make near real-time earthquake movies 2007-07-31 19:52:24   Print

    BEIJING, July 31 (Xinhuanet) -- Scientists at Caltech and the San Diego Supercomputer Centers (SDSC) are using a network of ground sensors and supercomputers to turn an earthquake into a near real-time animated movie the public can watch on TV or home computers as soon as a temblor occurs.

    Caltech and the SDSC will make the first movie of this kind available to the media and public information providers the next time a magnitude-3.5 or greater earthquake strikes Southern California.

    Seismic recorders scattered at hundreds of stations across Southern California constantly measure ground motion, providing seismologists with information to determine the quake's epicenter, depth and intensity, explained Jeroen Tromp, a computational seismologist of Caltech who works with SDSC to make the movies.

    "We're getting good performance that will let us cut the time to deliver earthquake movies from about 45 to 30 minutes or less, and every minute is important," Tromp said. Detailed information about earthquake strikes assists in the delivery of emergency services to victims.

    For earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.5 or greater which typically strike once or twice a month the information is fed into a SDSC supercomputer called OnDemand. Rather than waiting several hours or days for results, a sophisticated computer model can produce a simulation of the ground motion in the area within about 28 minutes.

    The OnDemand is a Dell cluster run by open-source Linux operation software and made up of 256 processors. It has a theoretical peak performance of 2.4 teraflops (a teraflop is a trillion floating point operations per second, and floating-point is an encoding system that makes it easy to work with extremely long numbers).

    In addition to the seismic data, the computer simulation relies on archived information about the subsurface structure of the region, which largely controls how the seismic waves will spread from the earthquake's epicenter.

    These 3-D animations are digitally overlaid onto the topography of Southern California and rendered into animated movies, which will be sent as an e-mail to public and news media subscribers.


Editor: Gareth Dodd
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