rise to the surface
“Unheard Symphony of the Planet”
Using a small device called the Raspberry Shake, people around the world are attuned to the vibrations of the earth.
By Madeleine Morley
by photos Peter Fisher
Credit… Peter Fisher for The New York Times
Everything was motionless as Marc Cesaire, a high school earth science teacher, watched a live broadcast of the Rolling Loud hip-hop festival at Citi Field from his Queens, NY apartment a few miles away.
It was 4:55 p.m. on October 30, 2021, and rapper Fivio Foreign was playing to an audience of thousands. As the set drew to a close, 43-year-old Cesaire noticed the crowd bouncing more and more intensely and opened a second live stream. placed in his class at the nearby Civic Leadership Academy.
“The seismograph actually seemed to catch the crowd bouncing up and down from 1.3 miles away,” Cesaire said. “You couldn’t feel it, but Queens was shaking to the beat.”
The Raspberry Shake, a small device that combines an inexpensive computer called the Raspberry Pi with a monitor that measures small ground motions, has helped make seismology more accessible to the public since 2016. Raspberry Shakes are less advanced than professional seismographs, but at a fraction of the cost, and nearly 1,600 devices scattered around the planet live stream open access data online to create the world’s largest, real-time seismic network. The “Shakers” network, as the community likes to call itself, is made up of hobbyists, professionals, and educators whose instruments collect the seismic waves of earthquakes and the daily hum of their immediate surroundings.
The Three Shakers: Marc Cesaire, a high school earth science teacher in Queens, NY; Amy Gilligan, a geologist in Aberdeen, Scotland; and Ben Orchard, a software developer in Temecula, California.
“You can expect to see a straight line on the seismogram, but the movement is always there,” said Steve Caron, 54, a business systems analyst and citizen scientist from Chino Hills, California, who posted live data of his device to YouTube. It refers to the recording of ground motions, usually measured in nanometers, by means of a graph showing time on its horizontal axis and displacement on its vertical axis. “Things are always moving,” he added, “but only scientists and enthusiasts like me can really notice that.”
Cesaire often checks Raspberry Shake data during morning or lunch breaks in New York. “You start to realize how structured and planned city life is,” he said. “You see it when the Long Island Railroad Road crosses and construction begins, the HVAC and computers are turned on at school.”
Typically, scientists bury seismographs in vaults deep underground; it’s an app that aims to suppress vibrations created by humans – what they call “cultural noise” – in order to more clearly read the activity of the earth itself. But for many Shakers, installing cheaper seismographs at home was proof that the distinctive patterns created by everyday activities traditionally thought undesirable to capture can be fascinating in their own right.
“The washing machine has nice signals,” said Amy Gilligan, 34, a geologist in Aberdeen, Scotland. Leda Sánchez Bettucc, 55, a geologist in Montevideo, Uruguay, plays with her daughter to guess whether the vibrations are coming from a blender, vacuum cleaner, or son who plays the violin.
The Shakers use the hashtag #WhatsTheWiggle on Twitter to share seismograms of thunder, powerlifting, neighborhood construction, and other interesting recordings with each other. Caron, who sometimes sees the footsteps of a badger family in his data, said there are still many mysteries out there. You should play the detective: “There are some squiggly lines I see every night but I have no idea what they are. What is it that oscillates like that at 3:00 in the night?”
While cultural noise is constantly gushing up and down in Shaker live broadcasts, the end result is the distinctive vertical rise of an earthquake that Shakers seek, and the data collected by them often aids the work of scientists as well. As 45-year-old Wendy Bohon, a communications strategist and geologist in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Earth Sciences Division, explains, “in really significant earthquakes, the waves are so big they can go around the earth several times.” Both professional and do-it-yourself seismographs can capture these waves as they travel thousands of miles on the surface and inside the planet.
By sharing screenshots of data from their devices in the moments after a larger earthquake, Shakers creates a bigger picture of how a wave travels through the earth to reach each of them. Caron observed the digital connection, which reveals the geological connection.
For Takaaki Hattori, 34, a Shaker and nature guide in Okinawa, Japan, “When there’s a big earthquake in the distance and I see the vibrations caught in the house, I understand that we all live on one planet called Earth.”
Three Raspberry Shakes: On the floor of a classroom in Queens, NY, buried in a trash can in Temecula, California, and in a living room corner in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Live data provided by both Shakers and professionals in 2020 revealed that worldwide Covid containment measures have reduced the planet’s seismic noise by up to 50 percent. “I noticed that right away,” said Ben Orchard, 55, a software developer in Temecula, California. “Every day was a weekend” when he looked at Raspberry Shake’s data, as cultural noise such as commuting cars and school buses from Southern California had disappeared.
“The world is already noisy – there are winds, trees, animals and waves crashing,” geologist Bohon said. “And people make that noise. I think of us as busy little ants crawling on the surface. For a while, we all somehow fell asleep and the world went on without us.”
After observing the seismic silence of the planet, 33-year-old Clemens Finkelstein, Ph.D. Princeton University School of Architecture nominee has placed a Raspberry Shake inside the CIVA museum in Brussels for its “Patient Architecture.” ” Exhibition last summer. “I wanted to show people coming into space their vibrational effects on their environment,” Finkelstein said. Some visitors had the freedom to tap their feet by actively interacting with the sensor.
Finkelstein’s experience of “dark spaces, techno music, and feeling something touching your innards” in nightclubs in his hometown of Berlin initially led him to study the phenomenon of vibration, “everything is present, everything is touching,” he said.
Orchard calls it the “unheard of symphony of the planet.” When he and his wife and two children moved from Victoria, Australia to Southern California in 2008 – a “difficult and stressful” relocation – he placed a Raspberry Shake in their backyard to put everyone at ease after experiencing the first downtime in their new home. . “It may look like a big earthquake, but is it really? “Look at the data,” he said.
Orchard’s father followed the daily “buzz” of Temecula on his son’s livestream across the Pacific Ocean and more than 13,000 miles in rural Victoria. “He got him hooked on us,” said Orchard, who sent his dad a Raspberry Shake for Father’s Day in 2017. Today, Orchard watches two streams side-by-side on his computer board and on an iPad next to his living room television, catching the cigar-shaped vibration of the grain train driving past his father’s house in the morning, the swells of a storm hitting Victoria’s cliffs, or the beeping of his father planting a fig tree in the garden. . “Observing my father’s serenity now binds me home,” Orchard said.
When a magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit the remote and largely uninhabited Kermadec Islands near New Zealand in March, Orchard first saw it appear on his father’s seismograph in Victoria, and then, four minutes later, the earthquake made a distinctive spike burst in Raspberry. came as Shake the monitor at home. “Together, we can see how that fundamental note the planet just played ripples around the world, bouncing back and forth between us as we play in a planetary sound system.”
Surfacing is a column that explores the intersection of art and life, produced by Alicia DeSantis, Jolie Ruben, Tala Safie and Josephine Sedgwick.