Published: 01/23/2023 15:19:00
Modified: 01/23/2023 15:18:34
A citizen science project called Raspberry Shake is allowing a few New Hampshire residents to tune into the “unprecedented symphony of the planet” — as well as things that aren’t quite as symphonic.
“I can tell when vehicles are passing on the road. And he picked up a jogger while running once: a really downhill heavy guy,” said Ric Werme of Sutton.
Werme, a retired software engineer, is one of a handful of people who have turned the little do-it-yourself computer called the Raspberry Pi into a seismograph, the device that detects vibrations and is used by scientists to tell us tell the size of earthquakes. He had it when he lived in Boscawen and now it sits in his garage in Sutton, detecting everything from cars to small earthquakes to a meteor exploding above his head.
“The meteorite explosion he picked up was largely an infrasonic thing,” Werme said, referring to sound waves that are too faint for humans to hear but can carry energy. Infrasound is an area of interest for Werme and is why he got involved with Raspberry Shake in the first place.
“(A Raspberry Shake in) Antrim picked up the exact same signal, except earlier. came from a meteor burst, not from sonic booms,” he said.
Raspberry Pi computers have long been a favorite of the DIY kit’s digital arm, used to create everything from inexpensive game consoles to pirate radio stations to desktop replacements. Turning it into a seismograph involves a heavy magnet suspended in a coil. Movement causes one movement to move but not the other, generating an electrical signal that the device translates into data.
“It’s a bit more complicated than setting up a router but not too bad,” Werme said.
Around 1,600 Raspberry Shakes exist around the planet, most of them livestreaming their open access data to form a huge real-time seismic network. Three stations were reporting from New Hampshire on Monday, all clustered in the Sunapee area for some reason. Vermont and Maine each have one; Massachusetts has a few dozen, mostly in Greater Boston.
To find out more, see raspberryshake.org/.
The global network is made up of a mixed bag, from amateurs to teachers to scientific researchers. A New York Times narrative On it, people said they detected everything from badgers digging in the yard to the HVAC system turned on at a nearby school. I stole this line of “unpublished symphony of the planet” from an enthusiast quoted by the Times.
“I live next door to TDS’ central telecommunications office and can tell you down to the second when their generator test starts every Monday morning,” Werme said.
If you have spare time, you can even use it as a kind of quick gun.
“There is a crack in the road near my house. I will see two pulses from when the wheels (of a vehicle) hit it, then the background signal increases as the vehicle passes my house. … It made me think that it would be interesting to take the time between two cracks and determine the speed of the vehicle. Maybe I could also determine its size from the magnitude of the signal,” he said.
Citizen science networks, where many amateurs collect some type of compiled data online, have become a staple of modern research and monitoring. For example, I’ve been collecting rainfall data for over a decade through one, the oddly named Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, Snow Network (CoCoRaHS). More than 10,000 people are part of it every day, and our measurements are used by the National Weather Service to refine observations of potential storms and flooding.
As far as I know, the Raspberry Shake network is not part of any formal research or observation of seismic data, but it looks like it could be a way to refine our understanding of the geology.
If nothing else, I could see data used in court cases regarding construction disruption or damage. It is also useful to help answer one of the most frequent queries on social networks.
“When I was living in Boscawen I made a name for myself with that,” Werme said. “A common question on Facebook was ‘Was it an earthquake? and I have the reputation of being the first person to answer.