More schools on Vancouver Island may soon receive miniature seismometers that will help students learn about tectonics and also help communities better prepare for earthquakes.
SchoolShake is a new outreach and citizen science program in which researchers from the University of Victoria and Natural Resources Canada will use data from machines placed in different schools to track small earthquakes and active faults.
The aim is to support science education while helping communities prepare for large earthquakes like the predicted ‘Big One’ – a powerful earthquake that seismologists believe is likely to occur on the west coast during this century.
“By imagining or detecting many small earthquakes, we can better understand these faults that will one day generate a large earthquake that could cause a lot of damage,” said Edwin Nissen, associate professor of Earth and Earth Sciences. oceans at the University of Victoria, told CBC On the island.
“There are many, many small earthquakes, but we can only hear small earthquakes if we have many of these instruments.”
He said the miniaturized seismometer, called the Raspberry Shake, is a small transparent box the size of a fist. It was created a few years ago through a Kickstarter campaign funded largely by professional and amateur seismologists.
“When there is a big earthquake or an earthquake that people can feel, teachers will be able to look at the seismographs with their students and discuss what an earthquake is and how to locate tremors of land,” Nissen said.
Vancouver Island lies near the active boundary of the Pacific, Juan de Fuca and North American tectonic plates. According to Nissen, these plates have the potential to generate large earthquake and volcanic activity.
“A youngster growing up in Victoria now, there’s a good chance they’ll feel a big destructive earthquake in their lifetime,” he said.
“Key” Seismic Upgrades
Nissen says the Raspberry Shake data can also help the province make smart decisions about which schools to prioritize for seismic upgrades, based on their location.
About 250 schools need seismic safety upgrades, according to the Department of Education’s School Seismic Needs List. Some have been waiting years for an upgrade plan.
“We need to do these seismic upgrades now,” Clint Johnston, newly elected president of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), told CBC News.
“There aren’t many places in British Columbia that aren’t near a fault line, especially as you move up the coast and across the island. It is really important that the buildings are upgraded anti-seismic. This is our main objective.
“Schools are one of those community buildings that often serve as a place of refuge or a center of activity,” he added.
Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the NDP has spent $2.7 billion over the past four years to open new schools and make seismic upgrades. She says the province has committed to spending $3 billion over the next three years to continue this important work.
Each year, each of British Columbia’s 60 school districts submits a five-year capital plan and the ministry decides which plans take priority.
“The province has done a great job of renovating older schools…but where should it focus its efforts and where should we renovate first?” Nissen said.
He says the device will also hopefully spark an interest in Earth science among students.
“Science in school is chemistry, physics, biology, math, but I think Earth science is actually at the heart of so many of today’s big issues, like the climate change, landslides, wildfires, sea level rise and earthquakes,” he said.
Nissen says the Raspberry Shake is currently placed in four schools in Victoria and aims to have it installed in 10 schools by the end of the year.
He says if funding from the National Science and Engineering Research Council is approved, they will be able to install the devices in about 50 schools on Vancouver Island.
“The more instruments we have, the smaller the earthquakes we can detect,” he said.