UW News

January 15, 2015

Seismologists analyze last week’s game, prepare for more stadium shaking

UW News

UW seismologists (and everyone else in the region) got their wish: The Seahawks won last Saturday, and will play another hometown game in front of a cheering crowd that can rock the stadium.

people in front of screens

Up to seven people were in the seismic network’s UW headquarters monitoring signals and tools during last Saturday’s game.Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network’s post-game seismic analysis of the Jan. 10 game shows 197,000 page requests, almost twice as many as during last year’s NFC finals when the group first outfitted CenturyLink stadium with seismic equipment. (Read more here.)

The first test of the new, faster data relay worked, and shakes from fans’ cheering showed up on the seismic QuickShake tool before the 10-second delay broadcast appeared on the TV screen. The tool was developed over the past few weeks by UW scientists and students.

Tracking the vibrations from fans’ cheers has a serious side for the research team, which monitors earthquake and volcanic activity in the region.

Media coverage last week in the New York Times, the Seattle Times, and Wired built up expectations. By Friday night, Jon Connolly, a software engineer for the seismic group, realized the traffic might be serious for Saturday’s game. He contacted a program manager from Microsoft’s Azure cloud-computing  system and they worked that evening and up until halftime the next day to improve the reliability under heavy traffic.

photo of seismologists in press box

Research scientists Angel Ling and colleagues at the stadium last Saturday.

The website has no trouble handling many visitors, but QuickShake uses intensive processing power on remote cloud computers that can slow things down.

“This one product is very resource-intensive, so we’re trying to identify the bottlenecks,” Connolly said. “It’s definitely growing pains. We were adjusting on the fly.”

The trick is to deliver seismic data in almost real time to users on different systems. The tool now works for 94 percent of users’ machines within a three seconds of the vibrations.

The Seahawks' seismic pit crew (l-r): Bill Steele, Angel Ling, UW students Kyla Marczewski and Luis Flores, Doug Gibbons and Jon Connolly.

The Seahawks’ seismic pit crew (l-r): Bill Steele, Angel Ling, UW students Kyla Marczewski and Luis Flores, Doug Gibbons and Jon Connolly.

UW students helped develop QuickShake, which combines traditional seismic monitors with modern communications tools. Kyla Marczewski, a UW student in Earth and space sciences, helped develop the user interface. Luis Flores, a UW undergraduate in Human Centered Design & Engineering, worked on the design.

“I was fixing bugs during halftime,” Marczewski said, adding tools like a pinch-to-zoom function and easier viewing on mobile devices.

Analytics of the Jan. 10 game showed most people were viewing on a smartphone or tablet, with only 20 to 30 percent on a desktop machine.

During halftime, when fans were dancing, the UW team uploaded a new version of code to fix some bugs. They also implemented a new routing for the QuickShake tool, which had buckled under heavy traffic during the first half.

semismic graph

A seismic comparison of stadium tremors after the 2014 “Kam Quake” vs. the 2011 “Beast Quake.”Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

They got to test those changes. After the Kam Chancellor interception there was a sudden spike to 2,000 page views per minute, to see the cheers from what was dubbed the #KamQuake. It was the biggest seismic event of the game – though it still didn’t match the 2011 Beast Quake. And despite record traffic the seismic tool held up.

Probably the busiest member of the group on game day was Angel Ling, a research scientist who manages the seismic network’s social-media communications. She was swamped throughout the game, and could barely look up from the screen in the Seahawks’ press box. Other users were often tweeting her seismograms after a big play.

“People were pretty surprised that they scooped us,” Ling said. For the research team, it suggested that it might be possible to crowdsource seismic analyses.

This Sunday, the team will be back on the job. They will hold a pre-game Q&A on Twitter, with the hashtag #PnsnQnA. The experiment builds interest and audience for seismic updates. It also provides a test case of an emergency situation in a communications landscape that is vastly changed since the last major Seattle earthquake in 2001.

“These really give us a good shakedown of what to expect,” said Bill Steele, the network’s communications director. “How does the public interact with our products, and what do we need to do to improve that experience?”