Science & Technology

Animals can feel an upcoming earthquake, says study

Animals might sense ionisation of the air caused by large rock pressures in earthquake zones with their fur. They can also smell gases released from quartz crystals before a quake

Published: Wednesday 08 July 2020

Earthquakes are a mysterious event that nobody could ever predict. Even though we can record an earthquake by a seismographic network, we cannot forecast one. Earthquakes account for the majority of deaths from a range of natural disasters which amounts to about 60,000 people a year worldwide, according to the World Bank.

People who have witnessed an earthquake often claim that animals can predict the imminent threat of a strong quake. Some reports say that wild animals leave their sleeping and nesting places prior to strong quakes and that pets become restless.

To know more about this, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and the University of Konstanz in Germany have done an investigation.

They attached sensors (accelerometer) to animals like cows, sheep and dogs living on a farm in the earthquake-prone area in Northern Italy. Accelerometers measure the body acceleration of each farm animal. The researchers recorded their movements over several months.

The chip on the collar sends this data every three minutes to a central computer. The officials reported about 18,000 earthquakes in that region. Researchers selected ones that caused movement on the farm. These included strong quakes up to 28 kilometres away as well as weaker quakes, the epicentres of which were very close to the farm.

The final data shows that the animals were notably restless in the hours before the earthquakes. The animals showed early restless behaviour (20 hours before an earthquake) when they were closer to the epicentre of an earthquake.

It is still unsure how these animals can sense an upcoming earthquake. They might sense the ionisation of the air caused by the large rock pressures in earthquake zones with their fur. It may be also because the animals can smell gases released from quartz crystals before an earthquake.

The researchers are planning to use the global animal observation system, Icarus on the International Space Station to observe a large number of animals in diverse geographies. Icarus uses satellite and miniature transmitter techniques to track animals around the globe.

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