Twitter Inc., the microblogging service that lets more than 140 million users send short messages on everything from the mundane to the life-altering, tipped off the U.S. Geological Survey to the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that hit near the coast of the Philippines today.
The Reston, Virginia-based agency detected tweets about the earthquake one minute and seven seconds after the seismic event, which occurred at about 8:47 p.m. local time, Paul Earle, a USGS seismologist, said in a telephone interview.
Social media sites such as San Francisco-based Twitter are playing a more prominent role in raising awareness of and coordinating responses to natural disasters, including the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and one last year in Japan that led to the failure of the Fukushima nuclear plant. USGS scientists monitor tweets for mentions of the word “earthquake” and its equivalents in other languages.
“In some cases, it gives us a heads up that it happened before it can be detected by a seismic wave,” Earle said.
The system for monitoring Twitter, called the Tweet Earthquake Dispatch, is most effective in remote regions, where the agency does not have as many instruments for measuring seismic activity as it does in an earthquake-prone area such as California, Earle said.I picked it up on Twitter also, within seconds of opening my laptop early this morning. My traffic began to look like a seismogram: from 24 visits between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. to 332 in the next hour and 156 in the hour after that. We're now back to peace and quiet.