Can animals predict earthquakes?
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.