Seismic station on remote Farallon Islands gets critical upgrade

March 5, 2024

In late January, seven engineers from the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory helicoptered into the Farallon Islands, a windswept, nearly treeless chain of islands 30 miles off San Francisco's Golden Gate, on an eight-day mission to upgrade one of the lab’s most remote — yet most critical — seismic stations.

The station is one of few in Northern California located on the western side of the dangerous San Andreas fault and is vital to the University of California, Berkeley's 181-station seismic network, which ties in with the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) network and the California Earthquake Early Warning System (CEEWS) to monitor earthquakes and provide data to warn Californians of seismic activity. The MyShake app developed at UC Berkeley and sponsored by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) uses this network to give Pacific Coast residents an early warning about potential shaking.

Yet, torrential rains and ferocious winds have taken their toll on the 30-year-old outdoor station on Southeast Farallon Island, the largest island within the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service preserve that is off-limits to the public and the largest seabird nesting site on the Pacific Coast outside of Alaska. The outdated seismic sensors were encased in a rock cairn as protection from the wind, but small seabirds called ashy storm petrels appeared to have burrowed in for protection as well. Invasive house mice had nested in the sensors’ electronic components.

Berkeley News