Stranorlar school tracks Italian earthquake

'The great desire is to be able to predict them'

By Carolyn Farrar


By Carolyn Farrar


Stranorlar school tracks Italian earthquake

This is how last week’s earthquake in Italy appeared on the seismometer at St. Columba’s College in Stranorlar.


The powerful 6.6-magnitude earthquake that shook Italy last week also made its presence felt on a seismometer in Stranorlar.

St. Columba’s College is home to the seismometer, a device that measures the motion of the ground and records tremors and earthquakes around the world.

Brendan O’Donoghue, a physics teacher at St. Columba’s, shares the data from the school’s seismometer with the international network, Incorporated Research Institutions of Seismology (Iris). 

A main goal of monitoring quakes and tremors is to develop a method for predicting earthquakes.

“What they’re trying to do is to say, ‘There’s a 90 per cent chance this fault will rupture in the next 72 hours,’” Brendan said, by way of example. “That’s the aim of collecting as much information as possible.”

Every moment counts. The US state of California is anticipating a system of immediate warnings when earthquakes occur: Even 15 to 20 seconds' notice might give people time to get beneath a desk or in a doorway; or give motorists a chance to stop their car or getoff the road.

“It will make a difference,” Brendan said. “It will save a lot of lives.”

The Italian earthquake was so significant that the record on the Stranorlar seismometer was clear. However, in weaker quakes Brendan must first filter out interference to identify the trace of the earthquake.

“When you filter that out, gradually the trace from the event becomes more visible,” he said. Brendan has become very proficient at this work over the past six years.

Brendan also shares the data with Deputy Principal Tom Rowan, who posts the information to the school’s Facebook page. A notice board in the school shows a map of the world with seismograms posted to countries where the quakes occur, and Brendan also uses seismometer data in some classes.

If a pattern were discovered to predict earthquakes, “that would be a Nobel prize for some geophysicist,” Brendan said. “The great desire is to be able to predict them.”