ELLENSBURG, Wash. - The campus of Central Washington University is headquarters to one of the largest global positioning systems that studies earthquake risks.
The PANGA geodetic array monitors in real time 500 GPS stations around the Pacific Northwest that track in monitor in detail the compression of the West Coast along a fault line believed capable of a magnitude 9 earthquake.
A GPS network in Japan closely tracked the Tohoku earthquake that struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, which killed 23,000 people. Most died not from the shaking, but from the tsunami waves generated by the quake.
The problem, says CWU seismologist Tim Melbourne, is that the GPS networks aren't sharing their data, and he wants to see that changed.
Melbourne cites GPS arrays in New Zealand, Mexico, Chile and other Pacific Rim countries that all share similar vulnerabilities from tsunami generating subduction zone earthquakes, but are running their networks domestically.
Melbourne says the GPS stations can monitor the deformation of the earth in small increments of millimeters to centimeters each year, to better forecast the size and location of the earthquakes that will eventually strike. He adds that GPS networks can also quickly and accurately assess the size of a quake soon after it starts.
In one example, he envisions faster tsunami warnings, which provides early signaling of the size of a tsunami capable of crossing the ocean or long distances.