Stanford researchers have found a new way to track earthquakes real-time by using Twitter information collected from its active users in regions where threats of an earthquake is common.

Popular sites such as Google and Twitter have become a great source of aggregated data that is used by researchers in tracking emergency responses as a result of a disaster. With the addition of ShakeMaps, tracking earthquakes real-time is now possible.

Created by the Earthquake Hazards Program of the USGS (US Geological Survey), ShakeMaps use recordings and other information such as ground motion prediction and geological data. These are supplemented by data from witnesses, dubbed as 'did you feel it data,' which are all collected after participating in online surveys.

According to researchers, Twitter can help in getting information on several key factors such as faster detection of an earthquake and size estimate of the affected area. Since people can instantly create and share ideas and information through Twitter, data can be gathered at the fastest time possible which can be useful when people had to be warned of post-earthquake events such as aftershocks and tsunamis.

Researchers Reza Zadeh, Lynne Burks, and Mahalia Miller have found that geotagged tweets bearing the words "earthquake" or "tsunami" combined with set earthquake-based features can predict shaking intensity. After studying Japanese earthquakes with magnitudes of 6 or even higher that have occurred from 2011 to 2012, the researchers have learned that geotagged tweets coming from various radii surrounding the affected site can help in predicting intensity, Techcrunch reports.

Other data sources such as engineer inspections, offline-based measurements, and online surveys do not provide quick data that are needed to make decisions on rescue and recovery operations. Some regions do not even have a huge network of earthquake recording stations. However, researchers see the valuable tool in Twitter, with its 255 million users actively sharing information, and how earthquake prone regions such as parts of the US, Indonesia, Mexico, Japan, and the Philippines can benefit from the study.