This January 25, 2004 photo shows historic structures and a vehicle damaged in downtown Paso Robles from the 6.5 San Simeon Earthquake. Credit: Dane Golden/FEMA

How Animals Sense Earthquake 23 Days in Advance?

From ancient times, it was known that animals act strange enough to predict some natural disaster and now Cambridge University researchers are able to correlate directly the earthquake occurrence with  strange animal behaviour based on both scientific and empirical data.

The team of researchers studied animals in Peru’s Yanachaga National Park and recorded their behavior before and during 23 days before a 7.0 earthquake hit Peru in 2011.

Usually active wildlife in the area began to disappear from the place just before the earthquake. Reason? Researchers found that there is an increased level of stress on the earths surface before the earthquake that led to high levels of serotonin in the animals bloodstream.

Researchers used data collected from motion-triggered cameras in the Yanachaga National Park and found that they recorded usually 5 to 15 animal sightings daily but 23 days in the run up to the earthquake, it went down to 5 or less, though the forest is green rainforest and mountainous.

Another recording of a very low frequency (VLF) radio waves in the area gave away the scientists disturbances in the ionosphere during the period, especially 8 days before the disaster.

In the days before the huge 1961 Chilean earthquake and before the Good Friday earthquake in Alaska in 1964, radio wave transmission was affected and thee ionospheric changes were recorded by satellites.

An infrared image of the region surrounding Gujarat, India, on January 21, 2001. Yellow-orange areas trace thermal anomalies that appeared days before the Jan. 26th quake. The boxed star denotes the quake’s epicenter. Credit: MODIS onboard NASA’s Terra satellite

“But what has been lacking in the past was a physical explanation of how electric charges can be created in the Earth’s crust,” said Prof. Friedemann Freund. Signals that come from deep within the Earth eventually may give us a few days’ warning before some large earthquakes, according to NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Connecting the possibility of animal response to positive airborne ions on the earth’s surface when rocks deep below are subjected to increasing stress ahead of an earthquake, researchers said, positive ions in the air trigger disagreeable side effects in animals and humans, such as “serotonin syndrome”.

When serotonin is high in the bloodstream, it can lead to symptoms like restlessness, agitation, hyperactivity and confusion and it could have a profound effect on mammals and birds, especially those living on the ground and in burrows.

“The camera traps were located on a ridge at an altitude of 900m. If air ionisation occurred, it is likely that it was particularly strong along such a ridge,” said  Freund of the Search for extra-terrestrial intelligence Institute (SETI). Perhaps this might have driven the animals to escape to the valley below, with fewer positive airborne ions.

Similar study and collection of data was undertaken by CANEUS International under George Studor at NASA-JSC with their INCOSE Natural Systems Working Group.

Other studies have shown that elephants were able to sense the changes well in advance of the earthquakes. “I would like to compliment Prof Freund and there is a need for further in-depth analysis of related parameters,” said Milind Pimprikar, Chairman of CANEUS International.

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