USGS seeks seismic network bid

The U.S. Geological Survey is sending out for bid again a contract to run and maintain a network of computers that collects seismological data from around the world.

The network, called the Global Seismographic Network, gives scientists and governments quick information about the size and locations of earthquakes. It also is used to alert governments to manmade disturbances that may shake the Earth's crust, such as the detonation of nuclear weapons.

The network provides data for researchers and gives real-time data to people who search for other hazards associated with earthquakes, such as volcanoes and tsunamis.

When completed, the Global Seismographic Network, based in Albuquerque, N.M., will be composed of about 140 seismic stations in more than 80 countries, said Charles Hutt, the chief of the Albuquerque Seismological Laboratory. The USGS operates 75 stations, Hutt said, and the agency's partner in the network, the University of California at San Diego, runs 34 stations.

A typical station is located at a university or government agency within a foreign country, Hutt said. It uses seismographers fixed deep in caves or tunnels to react to geologic activity. The measurements usually are funneled directly into the computer network through an Internet connection or a dedicated link, such as those supported by a satellite, telephone or radio connection, and then sent to Albuquerque for review and warehousing.

However, some individual stations are not hooked up to the network. Measurements from those stations are recorded on tape and mailed to the Albuquerque station weekly, Hutt said.

Allied Signal Technical Services Corp. has held the existing $6.5 million contract since 1995. The company was responsible for installing new stations worldwide and repairing existing stations.

Allied Signal Technical Services also provides data center services such as programming, data archiving and quality control.

Company spokesman Joe Militano said Allied Signal Technical Services has been doing work for the Albuquerque Seismological Laboratory since 1983. The company has serviced the Global Seismographic Network since it was launched in 1995. He said the company intends to bid for the new contract.

Hutt said working with contractors is key because the government must be able to respond quickly to stations that need repair or updating anywhere in the world. Government employees have to apply for special visas, which can take as long as two months to be issued, but contractors can apply for tourist visas, which can be granted immediately, Hutt said.

The Global Seismographic Network was developed by three groups: a confederation of university earthquake researchers called the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), the National Science Foundation and the USGS. All three agreed to work together to replace the analog system of measurement with a broadband network.

Hutt said the old network of seismographic stations relied on analog measurements transcribed on photographic paper, which did not provide the full spectrum of earthquake signals.

IRIS and the NSF agreed to pay for the installations of the stations, and USGS agreed to maintain the stations into perpetuity.

Last year, USGS became responsible for running two-thirds of the network, with the University of California at San Diego taking responsibility for the remaining third, Hutt said.

About half of the data stations also will send information to the International Data Center in Vienna, Austria, which houses information about manmade seismographic disturbances. The center is scheduled to open in January.

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