Can Animals Be Used As Earthquake Prediction Systems?

People have believed for years that some animals exhibit unusual behavior before a major earthquake or other natural disaster occurs. Reports have indicated that horses, cows, dogs, cats and sheep may all be able to detect something amiss long before a scientist or warning system can.

Drs. Martin Wikelski, Uschi Mueller, Paola Scocco, Andrea Catorci, Lev Desinov, Mikhail Belyaev, Daniel Keim, Winfried Pohlmeier, Gerhard Fechteler and P. Martin Mai, from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and the University of Konstanz, sought to create a study to find out if these animals could detect earthquakes.

The research team attached sensors to farm animals in earthquake-prone areas of Northern Italy and recorded their movements over multiple months. They determined that the animals were restless hours before an earthquake hit. The closer the animals were to the epicenter, the earlier they began behaving oddly.

The scientists used six cows, five sheep and two dogs that had already showed signs of being able to predict an earthquake. Their movements were recorded continuously for several months. During the period the animals wore the sensors, 18,000 earthquakes were reported by authorities, 12 of which were a 4 or higher on the Richter scale.

The researchers chose specific quakes and then marked the animal’s unusual behavioral using objective criteria. This ensured that the scientists truly had a model that could be used for predictions. The data measured the activity level of each animal and then evaluated it using statistical models from financial econometrics, taking into account changes in activity patterns throughout the day.

The researchers discovered unusual behavior in the animals up to 20 hours before an earthquake. The closer the animals were to the epicenter of the quake, the earlier they showed activity changes. The team noted that the change was made clear only when the scientists looked at the animals collectively instead as individuals.

Though it’s still unclear how the animals can sense the impending quake, scientists suggest they may sense the ionization of the air in their hair; they may also smell gases released from the earth right before the quake occurs.

Read more at HorseTalk.

Read the full research paper here.

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