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ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Central Washington University is working with NASA and the National Science Foundation on a high-tech way to track and analyze earthquakes as they happen.

The Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array uses the global positioning system (GPS) to track earth movements. Watching and analysing the movement of some 500 GPS-enabled sensor stations in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, the scientists running the array believe they will be able to assess within two minutes how damaging an earthquake was and whether a tsunami is likely.

The system is called READI -- the Real-time Earthquake Analysis for Disaster Mitigation Network. It will tie the system here in the Pacific Northwest into a simillar GPS system that monitors California.

Tim Melbourne, who runs the CWU's array, said emergency managers will benefit because they will quickly know just how powerful the quake was and where the worst damage is likely to have occurred.

He said Japanese authorities did not have that kind of information for in the 20 minutes after the massive earthquake struck there last March -- where many people died in the resulting tsunami a half hour after the ground stopped shaking. Had Japanese scientists been better able to measure the 2011 quake in real time, many coastal residents could have been warned of the tsunami threat sooner.

See also this article at Nature.com: Satellite system will speed up tsunami warnings.

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