View this blog in blog mode
How you report earthquake shaking experiences on GeoNet's website is changing - it's now much simpler and quicker.
Late last year we launched 'Felt it?' on the GeoNet app and three months ago we added Felt Rapid to the website alongside the 'classic' felt report. Many of you have already made the switch, with roughly 50% of earthquake felt reports now submitted via the new system – thanks guys for getting on board with the new change. Today we're turning off the old long-form questionnaire. One important thing to note about the new system is that reports will only be used if they're submitted within an hour of the quake
First off, we'd like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone that took the time to fill in our online earthquake report. GeoNet has run online felt reporting since 2004 and in that time we've collected nearly 1 million reports! It won’t come as a surprise that reporting peaked between Sept 2011 and Sept 2012 along with peak numbers of Canterbury aftershocks. So, a very special thank you needs to be said to all those in Christchurch and further afield that took the time to report many of the hundreds of aftershocks that they felt. Some of our most active reporters have filled in hundreds of reports (one reporter completed more than 500 reports. Wow!).
Why the change?!
The feedback we received from Cantabrians was the main driver behind this change. The original form was too long, and during peak demand would stop working.
Also, researchers have been mainly focused on damaging reports – which (fortunately) is only a tiny percentage of earthquakes. However, with the old reporting system we were missing some reports. Understandably, sitting at a computer (assuming you had power) and filling in a long questionnaire wasn't a high priority when you've just be rocked by a huge earthquake.
We realised with the old reporting system, we were trying to please both scientists and the public with the one report, while actually pleasing neither. The solution is to split our reports. Felt Rapid will collect earthquake shaking experiences within the first hour of the quake as scientists and first responders, along with the New Zealand public, want to know how people experienced a quake that just happened.
When there's a damaging quake and we need more detail we'll ask those in the affected area to fill in the longer questionnaire.
Have a look at our interactive graphic below:
We've added the volcanoes' status to the GeoNet app. This shows the current Volcanic Alert Levels at all New Zealand volcanic centres, either as a list, or on a map.
Get Notified for New Bulletins
You can choose to be notified whenever there's a new Volcanic Alert Bulletin issued by GeoNet. Touch the notification and get taken straight to the story!
When is it available?
It's being released to the App and Play Stores within the next day. If you currently have our GeoNet Quake app, you should be receiving an update soon afterwards. If you haven't got it, go get it!
Our new felt report system has been evolving over the past 18 months or so. First we added a “Felt it?” button to our GeoNet app, and got you to choose the picture that best showed what happened to you during the quake. Now you can do through the website, too. The only extra bit we need is your address, so we know where to put the marker on the map.
Q and As about our Felt Rapid
Q. Does this mean the questionnaire is going away altogether?
A. No, the detailed information we get after damaging quakes is very useful. After a damaging quake there will be the opportunity for you to give us more detail.
Q. Why is it called “beta”? What does that mean?
A. It means we are trialing this approach. If we need to make changes, based on feedback, we will.
Q. How long have you been collecting felt reports?
A. We’ve been collecting felt reports for more than 150 years. These first felt reports came in the form of letters and correspondences early on. Later, official forms were filled out and mailed. Check out this M7.0 from the Auckland region in 1891; we found 45 correspondences that reported the earthquake.
Q. Why did you choose the images in the pictures?
A. We chose a non-gender specific character, so anyone can relate to the image. The important issue of the image is to communicate the type of shaking you felt and correspond it to the Modified Mercali Scale (Intensity) scale. We didn’t want anything too distracting. We chose cats because the designer is a cat person (sorry, dog lovers. Maybe next time).
Q. Why only an hour to report?
A. For speed issues, essentially. It takes a lot of data to continually update the map. Again, if the earthquake is damaging, we will revert back to the more detailed felt report to collect more information.
Q. Do I need to give you my email address?
A. No, we’ve eliminated that step altogether. All we need is a physical address to geolocate your experience on the map.
Q. I’m uncomfortable giving my physical address. Will my house show up on the map?
A. No. To protect your privacy, we do not release your address. We pool felt reports by suburb. We just need it for general location purposes.
Q. Tell me more about the location technology GeoNet is using!
A. We group the reports using geohashing - We use the address to look up a location (latitude, longitude) and we convert this to a 20 character geohash. We then shorten the geohash to group the locations into larger rectangles. It's impossible to go from the short geohash back to the original location. When you zoom in really close on the maps you can see the grid pattern caused by the short geohash.
Q. How do I use Geohashed data for my research?
A. If you want to access our geohashed data, you can go here:
Q. I want to give feedback on this new feature. How do I do that?
A. You can email us at email@example.com OR contact us through Twitter or Facebook. We are always improving our systems, so we appreciate your feedback.
A few weeks ago we made a seismic shift (see what we did there) to the way you access the www.geonet.org.nz web content, but you probably didn't even notice. These changes make it easier for our website to cope with heavy traffic periods, like we had earlier this week right after the magnitude 5.7 earthquake near St. Arnaud.
Since 2014 we have been using Fastly to accelerate the delivery of our web content to you, our users. Two weeks ago, we shifted the last of our www.geonet.org.nz web content away from GeoNet's own servers onto the Fastly servers. Because of the unpredictable nature of our traffic (widely felt quakes increase our traffic dramatically), we have to work hard to ensure our delivery networks are capable of handling massive spikes. These spikes often look like targeted distributed denial of service attacks. You shouldn't notice any major difference except during peak traffic times when Fastly's servers can guarantee our website will still be up and running, no matter how many people visit our site.
Web traffic from St. Arnaud's M5.7 earthquake
Fastly already serves the static assets and images for www.geonet.org.nz, as well as content from several other GeoNet subdomains, including api.geonet.org.nz, images.geonet.org.nz and info.geonet.org.nz. Fastly are expert operators in this field and with a content delivery network and capacity that is continuing to expand, we (and, therefore, you) are in safe hands.
As an added benefit for you, with the final switch to Fastly we now have the added layer of security enabled on the www.geonet.org.nz content. Fastly handles it all for us now, so you can now use https://www.geonet.org.nz/ for secure browsing of all GeoNet content.
The magnitude 5.7 earthquake near St Arnaud was a useful test of this switch over, which Fastly handled with ease. Fastly hosted GeoNet domain which peaked at around 675,000 requests and 4.3 GB per minute.
One of the reasons we launched the new colour palette on our app was to make sure that we were building an app that everyone could use. It's likely we have over 12,000 users that have some form of colour vision deficiency or colour blindness (5% of 250,000 users) and our old rainbow colour scheme didn't work well for them. Unfortunately, while we did our research and chose a colour palette that would be distinguishable and meaningful (an increase in colour intensity equals an increase in earthquake intensity) we didn't put enough thought into what maps these icons were overlaid onto. We were putting orange squares over a map with green forest. For some users, these colours are difficult or impossible to distinguish.
We went through a few iterations for fixes, and we're hoping our simple solution makes a big difference. We've tested it with a few helpful colleagues, and used a web browser tool that simulates different colour vision deficiencies. For the rest of us, nothing has changed, but colour blind people will be able to turn on 'colour vision deficiency assistance' in the app settings.
The update is available only for our Android beta-testers currently, but depending on the feedback we get, we'll roll it out to all our users including Apple iOS people this month.
Why have you got rid of the rainbow colours?!
It's the number one question we've been asked following the release of our latest app version. So perhaps you're been pondering this too?
Initially I also disliked the colour change, but when I learned why we got rid of the rainbow palette, I changed my mind.
Before changing the earthquake intensity colours our team looked at research into the perception of colours. It turns out that using a rainbow palette was a 'rookie mistake' with several drawbacks:
- People with colour vision deficiency – around 5% of the population – have trouble with a rainbow palette.
- By using a single colour range, we've freed up the rest to use for new app features in the future.
- Colour intensity is a more intuitive way to look at quakes. As the colour intensity increases, so does the impact of the earthquake. This makes more sense than our previous system - it was impossible to guess whether a blue or green quake had the highest impact.
Professor Cindy Brewer from Penn State University has led a lot of the work into how colour is used for maps. There have been some great articles published on the topic.
A secondary issue to this is that the map view lost information, now that it shows only blue dots. We aim to tackle this in future app releases. Although the old app had more information, that information could sometimes be misleading. Sometimes your attention was drawn to the wrong quakes. The app is now geared towards how shaking affects places in New Zealand, rather than focussing on what happens on the ground immediately above the quake (unless they happen to coincide). This got rid of poorly-named red ‘severe’ quakes in the middle of the ocean that no one felt.
New App Features
We’ve redesigned and added a lot to this latest release:
- Mobile felt: You can now report that you felt a quake with a few clicks. We’ll use your phone’s location so all you need to do is pick a picture that best represents what you felt. Simple! (sample pics below)
- Quake descriptions: Earthquakes are all about shaking. Our app is now geared towards how shaking affects places in New Zealand, rather than focussing on what happens on the ground immediately above the quake (unless they happen to coincide). This means they’ll no longer be poorly named ‘severe’ quakes in the middle of the ocean that no one felt.
- Shaking: What was called ‘Impact’ has been renamed ‘Shaking’. The ‘Shaking’ map accessed via the menu shows shaking around the country in the last hour, regardless if this shaking is recorded by people (felt reports) or our instruments. Most of the time, this page will be pretty boring, but after a large quake, the country will light up in minutes with instrument and reported shaking. If you want, you can make this your default page rather than the quakes list by going to Settings -> Default View.
- Colours: We’ve learnt that it’s a rookie mistake to use a rainbow colour palette. So we have overhauled our colour scheme to make better use of colour intensity.
If you have any questions about the app, please check out the FAQs first (I wrote them in the hopes that at least one person would read them). If they didn’t answer your question, or you have feedback about the app then send us an email.
Anyone (possibly just researchers?) looking back through the last few years of our earthquake catalogue - containing over 500,000 quakes from the last two centuries - may have noticed that there was a period in 2012-2013 with no quakes. As Cantabrians and much of the country can attest, quakes were most definitely happening in New Zealand during that time. They were, however, missing from our catalogue because of the transition from our old earthquake location system CUSP to our new speedy system SeiscomP3. SesicomP3 lets us post automatically located quakes to the GeoNet website in under a minute.
Our analysts have been intently working to fill this gap from Jan 2012 to April 2013 while keeping up with the current earthquakes, and they've just finished!
Because our new location system is generally pretty good at automatically locating quakes, only those larger than magnitude 3 are now being reviewed by our analysts.
Our catalogue is mainly used by local and international researchers, but our Quake Search GUI map (like the one to the right) makes it easy for anyone interested to see what's been happening in their area.
Currently the period between May and December 2013 has only had an initial review, so this will now be checked over.
New App Features!
'Impact' lets you see hundreds of our seismographs from all around the country, which light up any time they record significant shaking. Like our quakes, shaking is colour-coded with intensity, from unnoticeable (grey) to severe (red). Any earthquakes recorded over the hour will also show up as pulsating circles which follow the same colour-coding. If there is a quake near our sensors the colours of the quake and the closest instruments should match, if the closest sensor is some way from the quake, the shaking will likely be less severe by the time it reaches that spot. If there is a single instrument with high shaking and no earthquake, chances are the shaking will be from something other than a quake (most likely machinery, a herd of cows, nearby people, etc).
After a big quake 'Impact' (along with the felt reports you fill in) is a great tool to quickly find areas with the greatest potential for damage. Energy from an earthquake doesn't necessarily spread out evenly, with the rocks beneath you (and our sensors) playing a part in the severity of shaking recorded.
The update to the app should be out in a few hours. Have a look at our screenshots to see what you can do with 'Impact'.
For anyone with a long memory, 'Impact' is similar to something we had on the website years ago called ShakeNZ.
Additional info for app users:
Missing quakes when using the filtering buttons? We get a few emails a week asking about this, so I assume there are many more people wondering this who haven't emailed in. It's a complicated system that isn't very obvious at first glance. It's most noticeable when you switch between the 'strong' and 'severe' filters. If you filter by 'strong+' there are severe quakes. But when you filter by 'severe', currently there are no quakes in that list. This is because a quake has two intensity measurements:
- A maximum intensity at the epicentre of the earthquake
- A New Zealand regional intensity, which is its intensity at the nearest town
If a quake's epicentre is near a town the two intensities are the same. If the quake was out to sea, or in the middle of nowhere, no one is around to feel the maximum intensity at the epicentre and so the quake will have a lower regional intensity. The filter at the top of the page filters by regional intensity, but the quakes are listed in their maximum, epicentral intensity.
For anyone who hasn't upgraded their App version in a long while (why not!? it's free and these new features are awesome) we'll be turning off our old notification system very shortly, so you'll need to upgrade your version if you want to keep receiving quake notifications - this will affect people that haven't upgraded in a year or more.
Beta testers get to try out new features we plan to put into the official release. But while you get to try out some new things, there is always the chance that some things don’t work well. That’s why we release them to a small audience who are keen to help us build the best possible official release.
If you want to join our community of iOS beta testers, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org:
- An email address, which you must be able to access on your iPhone/iPad
- Whether you’re using iOS 7 or 8
If you’re an Android user, read how to join the Android beta testers.
Data downloads via the GeoNet website add up to over ten terabytes per year; mostly this is earthquake-related data, but we collect much more than that. We have lots of small data sets, some of which we've been collecting for decades. Up until now, these haven't been easy to access. So to fit in with our open data philosophy we're now developing a database and interface to store and look at these less common data sets. It's called the FITS (FIeld Time Series) API (Application Program Interface), or FITS for short.
So, should you be interested?
Slow earthquakes - they don't happen overnight, but they do happen
Check out our webpage Slow-Slip Watch to see slow earthquakes over the years.
We're just starting out with FITS and the initial gain is a way to easily look at slow earthquakes (slow earthquakes or slow-slip events are movements equivalent to significant earthquakes - up to magnitude 7 - which happen over days to weeks instead of within seconds). We've made a dedicated webpage (Slow-Slip Watch) to watch these slow earthquakes unfold. As the name implies, slow earthquakes don't happen quickly, so checking the page every day won't show much of a change. But during a slow-slip event, over the course of days to weeks you can watch the stations move. This is all done using FITS graphs so they update automatically, once a day, as new data is collected. An example graph from the page is on the right tracking the movement of CNST station, north of Gisborne. The general trend of the station moves slowly over time (this is the tectonic plate being pushed) but every so often you can see it jump back in the opposite direction; this is the slow earthquake. Slow quakes can only be tracked by our network of GPS stations. They are a relatively new scientific discovery, but very important for researchers studying 'traditional' earthquakes. Our first GPS stations started tracking them around a decade ago. On 'Slow-Slip Watch' some of the lower North Island stations have been running for over ten years so multiple slow earthquakes show up on these oldest stations.
More to come
Over time we're also adding in lots of volcano-related data into FITS, some of which also goes back decades.
FITS is intended as an easy way for both our own scientists and the rest of the world to look at data - is there a slow earthquake happening beneath the North Island? And when and how many have happened in the past? If a volcano is showing signs of unrest, or during a full-blown volcano crisis FITS will be a great way for our volcanologists (and you if you'd like) to display decades of data, and easily compare what's going on now with what has happened previously.
All the technical info is up on a dedicated webpage, so anyone inclined can see the data however they want. Over time we'll be adding more and more data, as well as maps and features to make it easier to manipulate data in FITS. Once we get the volcano data up and running we'll put them up on our volcano webpages and let you know in another story.
New App Features
A behind-the-scenes change we made from the last release (3.0) takes advantage of some new features to make our push notifications even faster. Currently we’ve got both the old and new servers running so you’ll still be receiving notifications with old versions of the app. Shortly, however, we’ll be turning the old server off, this means that those who haven’t updated their app (and why not?!) will no longer get notifications, though the rest of the app will continue to work fine.
As always, if you’ve got any feedback or suggestions for future app features, we’d be happy to hear them – email us at email@example.com
We need your help, Android Users!
We released the new GeoNet Quake app upgrade two weeks ago. In an effort to deal with the many different kinds of Android devices out there, we'd love to have more people able to test our apps before each general release.
How joining our Beta Tester team works: Responses to the group are sent as feedback to the GeoNet team, rather than to the whole of the group. If you later get back to us, what we most need to know is:
- what device you are using?
- what version of Android you're running?
- the nature of the bug or feedback you're reporting.
Interested in helping? Then join us at the geonet-android-quake-beta group!
(Note: iOS users are not required for this Beta Testing Group. You guys are cool, keep app-ing on.)
Howard Wu and Baishan Peng (our app development crew).
Q. How long did it take you to develop the upgrades?
A. First, we started getting user feedback that drove this upgrade development. As we are user focused, our goal is to make users happy with our application. Based on this feedback, we started nine months ago on the Android app and once we felt comfortable with the changes in that platform, we moved to the iOS platform. That process started about three months ago, when I joined the team; iOS application programming is my specialty!
Q. What went into development?
A. We’ve started from scratch; the old app code simply wasn’t going to meet our users’ requirements. And because our users are the most important people to the App service, it required us to completely revise the app. We first coded the entire programme, and then had a team of users to test the app throughout the country; first with Android and then iOS. We then made changes based on user testing to finish the final product.
Q. What can users of the app expect from this upgrade?
A. The main user benefit: better filtering and notification rules for earthquake. The first app we developed had a much more clunky interface and notification system; people simply weren’t getting the earthquake notifications they were interested in seeing. Some people got all the earthquakes and this was annoying, while others got no notifications at all.
People can now set multiple notification rules by location and intensity, or magnitude and depth. So you can keep track of what's happening to friends and family elsewhere in the country.
Other new features include reading news stories on the App; people don’t have to go to the website via their device anymore. They can read the latest GeoNet news directly from this app! Also, for iOS (Apple) users, you can now access felt reports on the quake map.
Q. Speaking of filtering, what will people have to do now with their notification rules?
A. They will have to start from scratch as this is a new system. As the push notification system is more sophisticated, people can now be very specific but until they programme their own notification rules, they will get every weak earthquake in New Zealand! So I suggest they change their notification rules immediately if they don’t want every weak earthquake in our system.
We hope you enjoy all the hard work our App team put into development!
Note: the default setting is to notify the user for ALL weak earthquakes throughout New Zealand. We get weak earthquakes daily, so if you don’t want to see those, change your notification rules after the upgrade!
- Set multiple notification rules by location and intensity, or magnitude and depth.
- Filter the recent quakes list by intensity, just like the website.
- View felt reports on the quake map (new for Apple).
- Read the latest GeoNet news articles in mobile-friendly form.
What’s it look like?