The ground collection-equipped bike in action. The ground collection-equipped bike in action. The Bike-Mag allows researchers to traverse terrain that would otherwise only be accessible by foot or by air. (Photo: Dr. Amit Segev)

This mountain bike can detect earthquakes and volcanoes

A scientist pedaling his way across Israel may change the way we understand the planet.

A mountain bike is a versatile vehicle, but detecting potential earthquakes and helping reconstruct 3D models of subterranean volcanoes is not usually among its key features. Dr. Uri Schattner is trying to change that.

Schattner, a faculty member at the University of Haifa in Israel, had been crisscrossing the Israeli terrain on foot for years collecting ground magnetic measurements, data used for mapping what lies beneath the earth's surface, before coming up with a more efficient solution last year: using a mountain bike.

"I came to this idea of the bike after walking a lot. It sounds simple, but sometimes solutions are just simple," Schattner told From The Grapevine.

Dr. Uri Schattner on his bike outfitted for ground detection data.Dr. Uri Schattner designed this unique bike after tiring of walking for miles to collect ground magnetic measurements. (Photo: Dr. Amit Segev)

There are several ways to collect magnetic data, none of which satisfied Schattner or his team of researchers from the University of Haifa and the Geological Survey of Israel. You can do it by car, but this is limited by terrain. Aerial data collection is perhaps most effective, but it is often cost prohibitive. Then there is what was once their preferred method, walking, but this is limited by the endurance of the individual and is the least efficient.

After testing out several designs, Schattner and his team settled on one inspired by the All-Terrain Bicycle Geomagnetic Mapping System (ATBGMS), created by researchers from the University of South Florida.

In ATBGMS, the magnetic sensor is fixed to a pole extending about 4 feet in front of the bike handlebars and turns along with the handlebars. However, the design wasn't durable enough to withstand rough terrain. Schattner consulted with those most familiar with the tests he kept carrying out in his hometown.

"My neighbors had some great suggestions and I managed, with their help, to make the framework of pipes more durable and flexible," he told us. "And since then (a year ago) I rode across most of the southern Galilee, Carmel, Sea of Galilee, Golan and will cover the entire north of Israel."

First person view of the biketaken by Dr. Uri SchattnerDr. Uri Schattner and his team have collected data over 620 miles on the bike so far. Here you can see the magnetic sensor extended out in front of the bike rider. (Photo: Dr. Uri Schattner)

So far Schattner and his team have covered some 620 miles since beginning to use the bike, called Bike-Mag, roughly 60 more miles than they had covered by foot the previous two decades.

The team is pushing ahead with a funding campaign and, if nothing else, Schattner tells us the reactions he's been receiving from bystanders have been worth all the effort.

"The measurements on the peculiar-looking bike evoke a lot of curiosity from everyone. Children ask if this is a spaceship or a sophisticated camera," he told us.

"Adults ask what am I measuring, and what is the research. Car and truck drivers slow down to look and even stop to ask."


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This mountain bike can detect earthquakes and volcanoes
Researchers in Israel have outfitted a mountain bike to help with magnetic data collection.