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KTH builds sensor network for earthquake early-warning system

Destroyed wall structure after earthquake
Earthquakes are one of Earth’s most harmful natural disasters. The KTH-led project ArtEmis is developing systems technology that can forecast earthquakes at an early stage. Photo: Mostphotos
Published Feb 15, 2023

Future predictability of severe earthquakes – the goal of the KTH-led European research project ArtEmis.
“By combining several measurement parameters simultaneously, we hope that research into earthquakes can take a great leap forward,” says Project Leader Ayse Ataç Nyberg, Professor of Physics at KTH.

The aim of ArtEmis, which has been awarded an Euratom (länk) grant of EUR 2 million up to 2027, is to lay the foundation for a reliable early-warning system for earthquakes – a network of sensors that measure radon content and other parameters in selected water sources in Europe.

Portrait Ayse Atac Nyberg
Professor Ayse Ataç Nyberg grew up in Ankara, Turkey, and spent a lot of time in “the most dangerous and earthquake-prone area around Istanbul”. She is now heading up KTH’s new project, ArtEmis. (Photo: Jana Vasiljevic)

“We want to place more than 100 detectors that monitor radioactivity, water pressure, acidity and movements in the bedrock along fault lines in countries that are prone to earthquakes,” says Ataç Nyberg.

Since the 1960s, earthquakes have been predicted by measuring the radon gas that leaks from microcracks in the bedrock due to movements in the earth’s crust.
“But is has become increasingly clear that the radon level measured in the air or soil can be influenced by temperature fluctuations and air humidity, so instead we’re measuring the values in the groundwater,” says Ataç Nyberg.

Data is analysed through AI

In the groundwater, the measured radon values are more stable and reliable over time, and they can also be combined with, say, measurements of water pressure – observables that can individually signal an increased risk of earthquake.

“The huge amount of collected data is processed and analysed using AI solutions. This collaborative project between 14 institutions in Europe includes seismologists, geologists, physicists and AI researchers,” says Ataç Nyberg.

An injection tube with measuring equipment in bedrock in a tunnel
As the groundwater travels to the surface, it gathers information about processes several kilometres down in the earth’s crust. Groundwater studies are being conducted at e.g. the Bedretto laboratory in Switzerland, which is part of the ArtEmis project. Picture shows injection tube with measuring equipment. (Photo: Ramon Wyss)

Initially, measurements are being taken in fault lines in Greece, Italy and Switzerland. Via universities in the various countries, the research group has access to groundwater sources where detectors can be placed.
“We’re also working with local authorities in the areas, so we have access to groundwater sources in caves, tunnels and wells.”

Ataç Nyberg points out that the research group intends to continue collecting data also beyond 2027.
“We’re hoping for further funding so we can place detectors also in other disaster-struck countries, such as Turkey.”

Ayse Ataç Nyberg grew up in Ankara, Turkey, where three large earth plates intersect and cause a lot of movement in the bedrock.
After losing several friends in Turkey’s catastrophic earthquake of 1999, she has been involved in research that could prevent this kind of tragedy in future.

“Everyone in this research group is genuinely committed. We won’t solve the whole problem of earthquake forecasting, but we can develop tools that help us understand how the processes work. In future, we hope to be able to interpret all the signals correctly, and predict catastrophic earthquakes.”

Text: Katarina Ahlfort
Photo: Mostphotos

The ArtEmis research project

  •  The interdisciplinary systemic project ArtEmis is being funded by Euratom to the amount of EUR 2 million up to 2027.
  • The Euratom Research and Training Programme (2021-2025) is a nuclear research and training programme with an emphasis on the continuous improvement of nuclear safety, security and radiation protection and fusion energy research. It complements the achievement of Horizon Europe’s objectives including in the context of the energy transition as well as contributing to the implementation of the European fusion roadmap.
  •  The research project combines on-site radon measurements in groundwater using a massive sensor system for a variety of parameters. Advanced analysis is carried out via machine learning and AI.
  •  Seismic activity and geological properties are being measured in three European regions: the Ionian Islands of Greece, the Abruzzo region of Italy, and in Switzerland.
  •   ArtEmis: Awareness and resilience through European multi sensor system
  • Can Nuclear Physics Improve Earthquake Forecasting?
Sensor map illustration
A map of ArtEmis sensor for ground water analysis
Group members of ArtEmis in front of KTH logo
The collaborative project ArtEmis, between 14 institutions in Europe, includes seismologists, geologists, physicists and AI researchers.