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Animals Are Still the Best Earthquake Warning System We've Got

Mar 30, 2015 10:28 AM EDT
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Time and time again, Mother Nature finds a way to prove just how inadequate human technology is compared to her own mysterious tools. New research has found compelling evidence that wild animals know when an earthquake is coming long before humans and their gadgets get the heads up. Now experts hope to make use of that ability, taking cues from nature to keep citizens safe.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, which details how scientists have recorded the behavior of wild animals on film just prior to an earthquake. The footage came from motion-triggered cameras in Peru's Yanachaga National Park, and stretches back to 23 days before a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the region.

Researchers Rachel Grant of Anglia Ruskin University, Friedemann Freund of the SETI Institute, and Jean-Pierre Raulin of the Centre of Radio Astronomy and Astrophysics Mackenzie (CRAAM) in Brazil, determined that the park's cameras traditionally see between five and 15 animals in one day. However, a whole week before the earthquake struck, that number dramatically dropped, with five or fewer animals spotted by any one camera five to seven days before the quake.

Local park officials explained how this was incredibly unusual for the mountainous rainforest region, which is usually rife with life. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : TEAM Network teamnetwork.org)
Razor-billed curassow (Mitu tuberosum) as seen in Peru's Yanachaga National Park. Prior to a magnitude 7.0 quake, these birds vanished from the area alongside many other animals.

"As far as we know, this is the first time that motion triggered cameras have documented this phenomenon prior to an earthquake," Grant explained in a statement, adding that sudden changes in very low frequency (VLF) radio waves just before the quake could likely be felt in the region even before human tech could pick it up.

"We found evidence of disturbances in the ionosphere in the area where the earthquake struck," she said. "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 ionization."

Experts have long known that positive ions in the air can cause an increase in the serotonin levels in the bloodstream, leading to symptoms such as restlessness, agitation, hyperactivity and confusion - a phenomenon called "serotonin syndrome."

"The camera traps were located on a ridge at an altitude of 900m. If air ionization occurred, it is likely that it was particularly strong along such a ridge," Freund added. "Hence, the animals would have escaped to the valley below, where they were exposed to fewer positive airborne ions."

The researchers now hope to aim efforts towards developing better detection systems for this ionization - a means of earthquake detection that could cost far less than current seismograph systems. This could improve early warning systems in some areas by days and days - potentially saving, not only money, but lives.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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