Can an­i­mals pre­dict earth­quakes?

Focus-Science and Technology - - Discoveries -

IF YOU’RE EVER out and about and no­tice an eerie lack of an­i­mals scur­ry­ing around, you might want to turn on your heels and scarper – an earth­quake may be on its way.

A team led by Anglia Ruskin Uni­ver­sity’s Rachel Grant has used mo­tion cap­ture cam­eras to dis­cover that an­i­mals in Peru’s Yanachanga Na­tional Park have a ten­dency to hun­ker down in their nests and bur­rows sev­eral days be­fore an earth­quake hits. They sus­pect this be­hav­iour could be due to the ef­fect of charged par­ti­cles sent into the air by seis­mic ac­tiv­ity.

On a typ­i­cal day, the cam­eras spot­ted 5 to 15 an­i­mals, such as ra­zor-billed curas­sows. How­ever, in the 23 days be­fore the mag­ni­tude 7.0 Con­ta­mana earth­quake struck in 2011, they saw no more than five on any given day, and for five of the seven days im­me­di­ately be­fore the earth­quake, no an­i­mal move­ments were recorded at all. Th­ese find­ings cor­re­sponded with dis­tur­bances in the iono­sphere, an area in the up­per at­mos­phere that con­tains a high num­ber of ions, or charged par­ti­cles.

Fur­ther­more, it is known that a high den­sity of pos­i­tive ions in the air can lead to side ef­fects in an­i­mals and hu­mans. For ex­am­ple, it can cause an in­crease in the an­i­mals’ sero­tonin lev­els, which can lead to symptoms such as rest­less­ness, ag­i­ta­tion, hy­per­ac­tiv­ity and con­fu­sion.

“We be­lieve that both of th­ese anom­alies arise from a sin­gle cause: seis­mic ac­tiv­ity caus­ing stress build-up in the Earth’s crust, lead­ing – among other things – to mas­sive air ion­i­sa­tion. We hope our work will stim­u­late fur­ther re­search into this area, which has the po­ten­tial to help with short-term seis­mic risk fore­cast­ing,” says Grant.

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