Google street view may be a valuable tool for recording earthquake damage

Jonathan Marker | Science Recorder | October 30, 2013

Google street view may be a valuable tool for recording earthquake damage

Google street view shows the details – fractures, plaster breaks and collapsed walls.

According to an October 30 news release from the Seismological Society of America, a researcher from Cologne University, Germany documented the damage caused by the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake using Google’s street view scans, suggesting that the database may be a valuable tool in surveying damage caused by future earthquakes.

The findings appear in the November issue of the journal Seismological Research Letters, in an article entitled, “Support of Macroseismic Documentation by Data from Google Street View.”

According to the authors, “The Mw 6.3 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in the Italian Abruzzi Mountains occurred on 6 April at 3:33 local time. The earthquake caused widespread damage in the city of L’Aquila and the surrounding villages. Official sources reported 307 casualties and some 1500+ injured persons and 65,000+ homeless. This earthquake is one of the best‐recorded normal‐faulting events, and it is the first significant earthquake that directly struck a highly populated Italian city in the last 100 years.”

In 2011, Klaus-G. Hinzen, a seismologist with Cologne University in Germany, worked with colleagues from Italy to conduct a field survey, taking 3-D laser scans to document earthquake rotated objects.  Later, Hinzen used Google Earth software to map the exact locations of copious photos of damaged constructions.  When consulting Google street views, Hinzen discovered that the scans had been taken less than one year before the earthquake, which provided an astonishing opportunity to compare the locations captured by the 2011 photos with Google street view scans.

Google Earth’s aerial views have captured an overview of damage to L’Aquila and specific collapsed structures.  However, the Google street view shows the details – fractures, plaster breaks and collapsed walls.  The scans help identify the damage caused by the quake rather than a lack of building maintenance or disrepair.

Hinzen suggested that any planned methodical survey of earthquake damage could benefit from the use of Google street view, if such scans are available for the area under investigation.


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