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Biondo Biondi: How to measure an earthquake through the internet

New technologies that detect motion in the Earth’s crust are emerging in surprising places and reshaping our understanding of earthquakes.

An old building that partially collapsed after an earthquake

Biondi’s sensor arrays are so sensitive they can detect sinkholes, landslides and even the rumblings of failing infrastructure. | iStock/rottadana

Most people know the seismograph, those ultrasensitive instruments that record every small shift in the Earth’s crust.

But did you know that the very latest method for measuring earthquakes involves fiber optic cables that carry internet data around the world?

Stanford geophysicist Biondo Biondi says that the waves of energy sent forth by an earthquake cause fiber optic cables to stretch and contract ever so slightly. Using precise mathematical algorithms, experts like Biondi can measure earthquake intensity, making every meter of fiber optic cable a potential seismograph and dramatically increasing the data experts can gather in a day. Biondi’s sensor arrays are so sensitive they can detect sinkholes, landslides and even the rumblings of failing urban infrastructure.

These new technologies – and the secrets they might reveal – are only starting to emerge, as Biondi tells listeners in this episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast with host Russ Altman. Listen and subscribe here.