Laura Ermert

Laura is a PhD student at ETH Zürich in Switzerland. She is working on ambient noise source inversion with cross-correlation techniques. Her goal on the blog is to showcase PhD students' and young researchers' results, as well as recent seismological highlights. You can reach Laura at lermert att

First Earthquakes, past and future

First Earthquakes, past and future

What was your first experience of an earthquake? Was it scary? Weird? Confusing?
The first earthquake I have consciously noticed was a magnitude 4.something on a small fault zone not far from my home town. The wave that shook our terraced house felt like a short burst of pressure, making me briefly worry, but then laugh as it prompted my mother to shout “Stop jumping off the wardrobe!” in a general upstairs direction. I didn’t figure out until hours later that an earthquake was what had happened.

I was reminded of that when recently arriving in Japan, probably a place of many ‘first earthquake’ experiences. Friends and colleagues got all giddy with “I felt a shaking last night!”. After all, there are many seismologists who work on earthquakes every day, yet have never consciously felt one!

But, being in Japan, we also came to realize what a huge national trauma an event like the 2011 one must mean, and that it is a matter of safety to stay earthquake-aware.

Take me as bad example: Wednesday morning, all sleepy pre-coffee, in my pyjama in a Tokyo hotel room. The building suddenly started shaking very noticeably and I barely had time to think “Wait! What was I supposed to do, again!?” before the motion, luckily, subsided. I don’t know what I was expecting – maybe a friendly border control officer saying “Please take a moment to visit our foreign visitors’ natural hazards awareness training room!”? But as it was, I came embarrassingly unprepared despite my previous earthquake experiences and stays in earthquake-prone regions. I thought, “I wouldn’t even recognize an early warning if I heard it on the radio.”

Another bad example! At

Thus, today, I’d like to draw your attention to past and future first earthquake experiences! If anticipation is the way to prepare, then remembering is the way to refresh. Coming back to my first question – what was your first earthquake experience? We hope that some of you will share an earthquake story with us, in the comments or on facebook, be it confusing, sad or goofy.

And as a way to prepare: The Japan Meteorological Agency provides these informational videos. Of course, few countries operate elaborate early warning systems, but some of the information is generally useful.

MyShake – your phone as a seismic station

MyShake – your phone as a seismic station

Are you on Facebook or Twitter? Do you use Whatsapp regularly to communicate with friends and loved ones scattered across the globe or even just across the city? I’d be surprised if you answer ‘no’ to all of these questions. In fact, why not admit that you are just as addicted to that smartphone of yours as I am to mine? Being a seismologist, you might have played with one of the various ‘seismometer’ apps, placing your phone flat on its back and watching the accelerometer reading jump into cute little jiggles as you tapped on the table beside it.


These apps seemed of little more than educational use, but this could drastically change thanks to several research groups in California.  MyShake, developed by Qingkai Kong and colleagues at Seismolab of UC Berkeley, is available from Google play for Android phones since February. This app has the ambitious aim of turning all those accelerometers riding our pockets into a very densely instrumented Early Warning network. The app functions as data collector: once it is installed, your phone will report event triggerings and even event waveforms to a datacenter that evaluates the recordings from a crowd of phones concertedly. Seismology goes big data.

The perks you can imagine: While few areas of the world have densely instrumented seismic networks that broadcast data in real time, smartphones are present almost anywhere and their numbers are on the rise. Thus, the hope of the developers of MyShake is to complement existing networks with more data, but also to bring Earthquake Early warning to many more regions of the world.

In the future, existing EEW systems that use traditional seismic and geodetic networks could benefit from MyShake just as MyShake could benefit from integration of data from traditional networks. […] Finally, and perhaps most importantly, MyShake could deliver alerts in regions that have little in the way of traditional seismic networks. [1]

Of course, phone accelerometers are cheaper and lower quality than those used in seismic stations, meaning that they have a much higher noise level. Also, you may be wondering, what if I am out for a walk with my pet kangaroo when the Earthquake happens, with my phone tucked away in its pouch? This is where the capabilities of artificial intelligence, and the power of crowdsourcing come in. An artificial neural network within the MyShake app itself distinguishes a P-Wave from your favorite Samba move and other non-Earthquake signals on the basis of three continuously monitored triggering parameters. Once an event is triggered, the phone communicates these parameters to a data center, where they are evaluated in conjunction with triggers from other phones. If many phones report triggers in a seismic wave-like pattern, the algorithm will continuously update the Earthquake origin and try to infer the magnitude. Otherwise, your phone’s report will be quietly filed as “Ah, that guy with the marsupial again.” (Just kidding.)

What challenges are there? One is power consumption: As you can imagine, when the MyShake app continuously checks accelerometer readings, this does similar things to your battery as you continuously checking your twitter feed. The developers are working on this topic and assure on their website that power consumption should not drain your battery extraordinarily fast. What that means remains a little bit hazy.

Another issue is coupling versus sliding: In shaking-table experiments, smartphones lying on the tabletop started sliding at higher accelerations and frequencies, causing a magnitude saturation of the measurements. This is where the smartphone network could tremendously benefit from added information by ‘real’ seismic stations.

Are there privacy issues? I was wondering as I read about MyShake. After all, given an accelerometer taped to your body for large parts of the day, one may easily derive whether you are likely sleeping, running for a bus, or putting on those Samba moves (This has been quite successfully tried on rodents, although they weren’t caught dancing Samba). However, MyShake reports only when triggered. Thus, waveform data should only be transmitted for very short amounts of time, during which you should presumably have paused any activity to wonder whether to take to the nearest door frame.

What the project will benefit from is contributing smartphone users. After receiving widespread media coverage when released (e.g., BBC reported) 170,000 users have already downloaded MyShake to their phones. One especially exciting moment for the MyShake project must have been when a smartphone-seismic record section was produced from the Borrego Springs Earthquake.

This, I must admit, was also what caught my attention for the MyShake app: When I first saw that record section plot appear, guess where … on twitter.

Interested in becoming a crowdsource seismic station? If you want to help improve MyShake, this is your chance of doing so by installing the App if you own an android device. It is a small investment as your phone will have to be charged a little bit more frequently, but it might turn out to be a truly valuable contribution to Early Warning. Think about it!

Interested in other Crowdsourced Earthquake Detection Networks? The seismologists of the world want to turn you into an earthquake detector [2].

[1] Kong, Q., Allen, R. M., Schreier, L., & Kwon, Y. W. (2016). MyShake: A smartphone seismic network for earthquake early warning and beyond. Science advances, 2(2), e1501055.
[2] Deatrick, E. (2016), Crowdsourced seismology, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO051335. Published on 26 April 2016.

Meet the new ECS Reps!

At the last EGU general assembly, Matthew Agius has stepped down as main early career scientist (ECS) representative and a new team assembled around Laura Parisi has taken over! Gender equality is not maintained, instead we are very proud to announce a 4/2 women/men distribution. Let us take the opportunity to briefly introduce ourselves. We would also like this opportunity to again acknowledge the great deal of work Matthew has done over the past two years, not least to motivate a few of us to be on this page today!

Laura Parisi
I am a post­dLauraPoctoral fellow at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. My research focuses on seismic imaging across scales. I have a background in geology, which was integrated with a PhD in computational seismology.
Before being a seismologist, I am a mum of a teenager with whom I shared all my biggest achievements! When I do not think about seismology I like running, lifting weights (aiming to gender strength equality!) and windsurfing. To make me happy, give me sunshine and sea!

Laura is the new head ECS representative and point of contact on the ECS team. You can contact her at laura.parisi[at]

I am enthusiastic to give my contribution to the SM Division especially to promote gender
equality in Seismology, increase the number of ECSs actively involved in the Division’s
initiatives and improve the GA experience for the young seismologists.

KathrinKathrin Spieker

Hei, hei from beautiful Norway! I am a PhD student at the University of Bergen and work on seismic imaging of the Earth’s structure. My current research focuses mainly on the receiver function analysis and how to get the most out of it. My heart started beating for seismology during my Bachelor and Master studies at the University of Münster in Germany.

I really enjoy the Norwegian nature and hiking on top of the mountains surrounding the fjords. Besides that I am a passionate writer. If you ever need a fairy tale, a motivating story or something similar maybe even with a bit of science included, I’m the right person to ask! You can reach me at Kathrin.Spieker[at]

I am very happy to be part of the ECS team and to work together with these five awesome persons! I hope that we can inspire all ECS to follow their passion, to enjoy the EGU, science and networking, and to be brave to promote their ideas for a better EGU and conditions in science in general.

Koen Van Noten

Hi! I am a Post-doc at the Seismology-Gravimetry secKoention of the Royal Observatory of Belgium. I obtained a PhD in Structural Geology from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. Few years back I had the opportunity to dive into Seismology without having any background in earthquake analysis. Today I realize that being a geologist is actually an advantage while studying the Earth’s interior as geologists have the experience from exhumed examples how rock and faults may look like at depth.

I investigate seismic sources by combining basement geology and potential field data and also study the influence of site effects on earthquake ground motion by applying geophysical techniques and analysing online “Did You Feel It?” macroseismic data. When there are no earthquakes I adore mountain biking and playing with my 2 daughters. You can reach me at koen.vannoten[at]

I’m enthusiastic member of the ECS Team who wants to encourage people to bridge the gap between Seismology and other disciplines. I aim to motivate students and ECS to reach out to us so we can advertise their work through various EGU platforms

Lucia Gualtieri

LuciaI am currently a Post-doctoral Fellow at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University (US). My research interests are in solving problems related to emerging fields in Seismology – including, but not limited to, seismic noise and landslides – in order to develop a theoretical understanding of their generation mechanisms. I am from Italy, where I got my Bachelor and Master degrees in Physics at University of Bologna. Afterwards, I moved to France, where I obtained my PhD in Geophysics at Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, listening classic music, swimming, visiting museums and art galleries. You can reach me at luciag[at]

I am going to put my efforts to convey young scientists’ ideas within the European Geophysical Union and to spread their voices also beyond the European geographical borders. I particularly care about gender equality in Science and public dissemination of scientific knowledge and enthusiasm for knowledge.

Redouane ChimouniRedouane

I’m a Phd student at the Université des Sciences et de la Technologie Houari Boumedien (USTHB) Algiers, Algeria. I’m working on historical earthquakes, intensities and source parameters; a dissertation co-directed between, Algiers/Algeria and Evora/Portugal. I obtained my Master degree in Applied Geophysics from the same university.

When I take a break, it is for listening to nature or taking pictures, otherwise, I just lay down and read about history, mythology or draw some portraits! You can reach me at rchimouni[at]

I’m so glad having the opportunity being part of the ESC representatives Team; I would like to improve and share knowledge with young scientists and help them as far as I can.

Building bridges between earthquake sciences and non-scientists is a huge step to keep lives away from being hurt, that’s why I care to aware young people about earthquake education and in terms of natural hazards: try to cohabit with the natural phenomenon of earthquakes.

Laura Ermert

LauraEHi there, I am a PhD student at ETH Zurich and working on ambient noise sources. I obtained my Masters from ETH in Geosciences, with a blissful exchange semester at UC Berkeley, which must have kindled my love for seismology.

When not thinking about all those waves hitting all those bumps and causing all those messy seismic signals, I enjoy the outdoors which make up big parts of Switzerland! You can reach me at laura.ermert[at]

My motivation to be on the ECS-rep team is to motivate young seismologists to make the best of EGU and to make EGU its best by contributing their science, but also their experiences and opinions. To this aim, I hope to help turn this blog into a vivid medium for discussion and sharing of ideas.

4 ways to have your say

A couple of weeks ago, we promised a more detailed review of our experience at the General Assembly 2016. Here is something we deemed worthy to spread word about.

EGU is dedicated to geoscience, so the first thing we are all looking for in the general assembly and EGU’s journals is…interesting science! Duh.

But science doesn’t live in an isolated space of labs and computing centers. There is ample public discussion (here, for example) about how important it is to make science work for the general public; in the same vein, it is important to think about how science steers its own course and forges its own future.

Sounds like a lot of big airy words to you? EGU is trying hard to be a bottom-up organization. Below are four possible ways in which you can shape the environment that shapes your science, and improve actively about those parts of EGU you are not satisfied with.

1) By attending the division meeting

Why should you go to the seismology division meeting next year? Well, first of all, there’s free food. Aren’t especially PhD students famously well-trained to find free food anywhere? But what’s more important is that you’re part of the community and you can interact with other people and help bringing the division forward with your ideas.


Here’s what newly elected ECS representative Laura Parisi thought about this year’s division meeting:

“It was my first Division Meeting and, honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. Overall I found it interesting, not only for us ECS-reps, to get useful info about EGU, GA and the Division. I think all seismologists should actually attend it. Although Martin Mai’s (the division president) presentation was great and he gave people a lot of opportunities to speak out, my ideal division meeting would be much more interactive.”

2) By interacting with, or becoming one of the, early career scientist (ECS) representatives

The function of ECS representatives at EGU was introduced a few years ago so that the interests of early career researchers could be better spoken for. Interaction with the division, connecting ECS among each other, and outreach are the main focus of the ECS representatives’ activities.

Matthew Agius has been the pioneer in the seismology division and did a great deal of work during the past 2 years (some of it summarised in this recent blog post). This year, a new team has taken up office and immediately organized a social event for seismologists to mingle over a beer in Bermuda bar!

In ECS rep Koen Van Noten’s words:

“It was great! Way more people than expected attended (wild guess: about 70), probably also thanks to advertising it at the Division Meeting. I saw a lot of happy faces and courageous seismologists came on their own ready to make new acquaintances: great! We built a nice mailing list, too.”

3) By attending or organizing short courses

EGU has started offering short courses organized also by ECS, on a range of topics, but often covering technical and soft skills that help you do your science but are not part of the ‘classic’ conference program. This years’ topics included, for example, ‘The art of being a scientist’, ‘Communicating science’ or ‘How to convene a session’.

The seismology division organized a course on seismology for non-seismologists. This was well-attended, feedback was good, and the short course will likely be repeated with new topical focus next year!

4) By contributing to this blog!

We are here to disseminate information about the division – its science, but also its more organizational aspects, to members of the division and, to a lesser extent, to other divisions and interested readers from the public. So stay tuned, and if you have a topic you would like to be addressed – be it a new exciting research finding, an announcement for a course or conference, … do not hesitate to contact us.