By: Sandy Doughton
Published: June 5, 2011
The Pacific Northwest is a restless place.
The ground is being shoved by tectonic plates. Snow-capped volcanoes inflate and deflate in concert with the creep of molten rock. Coastlines bulge as tension builds on an offshore fault very like the one that snapped in Japan March 11.
Scientists now can track these minuscule motions as they happen, thanks to an expanded network of GPS sensors that covers the region like a blanket and beams back data almost instantly.
“If the Pacific Coast or Mount Rainier moves a couple of centimeters, we’ll see it within five seconds,” said Tim Melbourne, director of the Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array, or PANGA. Once the network’s “real-time” functions are fully operational, PANGA will be able to pinpoint some earthquakes more quickly and accurately than traditional seismometers – and eventually issue warnings before destructive shaking hits cities or tsunami waves slam the shore.