It’s easy to tell when an earthquake hits an area full of Twitter users — there’s frequently a rush of panicked tweets within seconds of the ground shaking. If Twitter and Stanford University have their way, though, those posts could be useful for more than just alerting friends. They’ve conducted research showing that geotagged tweets can help model the effects of a quake while it’s happening.
Beyond the celebrity life updates and the 140-character fights about pretty much anything under the sun, Twitter can actually be helpful when it comes to things like mapping earthquakes. Twitter and a group of researchers at Stanford teamed up to see how tweets could help create more accurate mappings of earthquakes. Currently, “ShakeMaps” are produced within minutes by the U.S. Geological Survey using recordings, a simple ground motion prediction equation, and geological site correction factors. Interestingly, the maps are continuously updated as new information emerges, including qualitative first-hand accounts of the earthquake collected from online surveys, and this is where Twitter comes in.