Rapid Learning of Earthquake Felt Area and Intensity Distribution With Real-time Search Engine Queries

Sci Rep. 2020 Mar 25;10(1):5437. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-62114-8.


Immediately after a destructive earthquake, the real-time seismological community has a major focus on rapidly estimating the felt area and the extent of ground shaking. This estimate provides critical guidance for government emergency response teams to conduct orderly rescue and recovery operations in the damaged areas. While considerable efforts have been made in this direction, it still remains a realistic challenge for gathering macro-seismic data in a timely, accurate and cost-effective manner. To this end, we introduce a new direction to improve the information acquisition through monitoring the real-time information-seeking behaviors in the search engine queries, which are submitted by tens of millions of users after earthquakes. Specifically, we provide a very efficient, robust and machine-learning-assisted method for mapping the user-reported ground shaking distribution through the large-scale analysis of real-time search queries from a dominant search engine in China. In our approach, each query is regarded as a "crowd sensor" with a certain weight of confidence to proactively report the shaking location and extent. By fitting the epicenters of earthquakes occurred in mainland China from 2014 to 2018 with well-designed machine learning models, we can efficiently learn the realistic weight of confidence for each search query and sketch the felt areas and intensity distributions for most of the earthquakes. Indeed, this approach paves the way for using real-time search engine queries to efficiently map earthquake felt area in the regions with a relatively large population of search engine users.