Mapping the earthquake with twitter

23 06 2010

Cosmoboy was sitting in Ottawa airport waiting to board a flight to Halifax when it hit (epicentre in Cumberland, Quebec, mag 5.0 at 1:45pm EST). Initially the earthquake started as a slow rumble, just like some jet engines. But it didn’t die down, instead the shaking continued and got stronger. Was it a bunch of semi’s going by or something else?

At that point I started looking for the nearest strong structure in case things really went south in a hurry. But then it began to slow down, and eventually stop. No damage, one listing plant managed to fall all the way over but that was about it.

20 seconds of drama by all accounts. Although I have to say it felt a bit longer than that.

An announcer came on and told everyone not to worry. That was just her heart beating really loudly, which gave everyone a good laugh. No doubt to soften what was coming next, namely the bad news… Our plane was going to be late because the air traffic controllers had evacuated their tower!

A bit of excitement for the day! (Update: here is the seismogram from Boston College, doesn’t look at all like things felt!)

I immediately tweeted and searched to see if anyone else was reporting the same event. They were! Tweets came in from as far south as NYC and Ohio. At that point, about 10 minutes after the quake itself, I decide to try geolocating the tweets.

Geolocation of tweets has been used for tracking anything that varies by geography (weather is useful example, but you can track pretty much anything). Although I’d heard about this before, I didn’t know where to go immediately. After trying a couple of websites I would up at

I typed in #tremor and not much came up. Weird. Then I tried #earthquake, and then the map got “busy”, that’s the tag people were using! Here’s the map that was created:

Of course with tweets you have no guarantee that this a good map of what was happening, but after seeing the CTV map based on USGS’s data, it doesn’t look too bad at all:

The twitter map was pretty good!

I posted this on facebook and twitter via a link ….  Hmm… Nobody clicked on it, which I thought was kinda weird given there were so many tweets coming in. So I decided to post the image on twitpic – big difference! That was where people wanted to get their info!

It took a few minutes to do all this, so I decided to make another map and post the updated one, again on twitpic. Wow, put “updated” in a post and people flock to it. Interestingly the tweets really didn’t expand much beyond the original version, perhaps an extension out into Nova Scotia (but I couldn’t find anything about people feeling things all the way out there…) Here’s the updated map:

That was fun! It was my first experience playing with what is essentially a “mash-up” of google maps and twitter.

After getting 0n the plane to Halifax (Westjet) I put on the CTV news. Of course it was the top story! Lots of people interviewed. Thankfully not much hysteria. Lots of focusing on silly statistics like there have been quite a few earthquakes on June 23rd! OK, OK, here’s a couple more if you want to know, Peru 2001, mag 8.3, Vancouver Island, 1946 7.1.

Having spent some time living in Berkeley California, just outside San Francisco I’ve been in some tremors before. Annoyingly, in California I found that they woke me up, there again if that’s the worst thing that happened I should be thankful. But I think today’s quake was actually comparable to anything I felt while living there (not that there were any big quakes while we lived there though).

A bit of research shows Quebec is surprisingly geologically active. Today’s quake was far from the largest seen in this region. In 1935 there was a magnitude 6.1 quake, so over ten times bigger than todays. While the news agencies are saying we should look out for aftershocks, the USGS is saying these are likely to be very small.

But to put the shaking in perspective, the turbulence on my flight to Halifax was far worse than anything in the airport!



One response

23 06 2010
Tweets that mention Mapping the earthquake with twitter « Ecogirl & Cosmoboy's Blog --

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rob Thacker, Linda Campbell. Linda Campbell said: Mapping the earthquake with twitter: […]

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