Technology that can be downloaded onto a laptop or smartphone is letting ordinary citizens help to gather earthquake data.
Research in leading international journal Science outlines emerging "citizen science" that is changing the way seismologists carry out their work.
Until recently, monitoring stations were the only way scientists could gather data following earthquakes, with people in earthquake zones contributing eyewitness accounts.
That had limited the data that could be collected, University of California, Berkeley seismologist Richard Allen wrote.
"Currently, the best traditional geophysical networks only have stations [about] every 10 kilometres and cover limited areas."
New technologies that let people collect data themselves was changing that, though.
"Contributions of citizens have the potential to provide much higher resolution, especially in residential areas."
Those technologies included sensors that are now built into many laptops and cellphones and can record seismic data.
Software such as the iShake Cal iPhone app could be downloaded, allowing users to voluntarily transmit the data their phones and computers collected to a central server, where it could be collated by researchers.
More sensitive accelerometers that plugged into USB ports could also be bought for very little money, and used to collect and transmit data in the same way.
Anna Kaiser, a seismologist at crown research institute GNS, said the institute was already using those technologies to supplement its work.
After the September 4 earthquake in Canterbury, GNS scientists had installed accelerometers in the ground floors of 200 homes in the region.
"That provides better data quality than you'd get with a laptop.
"We've been looking at the variations in ground movement that you get and it's proved quite useful."
People who did not have a sensor could still get involved through the international Quake-Catchers Network, she said.
"If they have a laptop at home they can actually join ... by downloading software on their laptop."
Another GNS seismologist, Ken Gledhill, said social media, particularly Twitter, was also proving a useful tool.
"What I personally do as soon as there's been an earthquake is check Twitter. If there's a lot of people talking about it then you know it's a big deal."
The Science article pointed to examples of Twitter "outrunning" earthquakes, with earthquake-related tweets radiating out from the epicentre faster than the shake itself.
Dr Kaiser said citizen earthquake data collection was in its early stages, but showed promise.
"It's a good way to collect a large volume of data quickly. It's going to become more and more useful."
Watch a video of Tweets immediately following Virginia earthquake
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