Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Can Animals Predict Earthquakes?

Humans have a longstanding attachment to the belief that animals know a quake is on the way. Throughout history—starting in ancient Greece—animals have reportedly been observed fleeing an area that subsequently had an earthquake. The observations, however, were recalled in hindsight, after the quake. It’s hard to document—before a quake happens—that animal behavior changed, especially since quakes happen without warning. The USGS sponsored a project in the late 1970s to continuously observe lab rodents in southern California to see if there was a burst of activity just before a quake. Unfortunately, there were no quakes during the study’s duration. Jim Berkland, a San Francisco Bay Area geologist, made a name for himself by accurately predicting Northern California’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. His forecast relied, in part, on combing the classified ads for local newspapers, which he said demonstrated that a larger than usual number of household pets were listed as missing in the week or so before the 6.9 magnitude quake. Berkland was not the only one to claim that missing pets indicated something afoot.
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