In 2010, Italian Seismologists were put on trial and convicted on the charge of manslaughter. Their crime was not predicting the earthquake of magnitude 6.3 (which killed more than 300 people) in the Italian town of L’Aquilla. Many earthquake researchers and scientists were enraged by the court’s decision, and around 5,000 of them signed an open letter of protest addressed to Italian President Napolitano. In the letter, the scientists clearly stated that there is no reliable method for earthquake prediction or to warn people of impending disaster. Later, the Italian Seismologists were acquitted in their successful appeal. However, Earth’s animal kingdom seems to afford some kind of earthquake warning system.
Researchers began to study the toads of L’Aquilla, which abandoned its pond, few days before the quake. The research team led by NASA’s Friedemann Freund found out that animals living in or near groundwater (like toads) tend to sense the charged particles that are released by stressed rocks in the Earth’s crust. These sensitive animals would be conscious of the changes in chemistry of groundwater, and take it as a precursor to the rock in earth’s crust eventually slipping, causing a quake. Nevertheless, the toads of L’Aquilla are not the first instance of strange animal behavior on the face of earthquake.
The 1975 ‘Haicheng Earthquake’ is widely advertised as the quake perfectly predicted by animals. The quake stuck Haicheng, China on February 4, 1975, and measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. People of that Chinese province spotted many snakes emerging from their burrows. It was seen odd that many snakes are roaming around since it was winter – the snake’s time for annual hibernation. German scientist Helmut Tributsch is considered as one of the world’s leading scientist to note unusual animal behavior before quakes. His book, compiled 78 reports of bizarre behavior from animals, including the toad migration.
Like the L’Aquilla toads, thousands of toads before the Siachun Earthquake of China is said to have migrated from the epicenter. But, the experts studied that anomalous behavior suggested that the migration of toads happened due to depleting oxygen source in the nearby river. One of the constantly debated topics within the scientific field is establishing the definition for the term ‘unusual’. Many researchers feel that these animals tend to behave in abnormal ways, with or without a looming earthquake. They debate that weird behaviors are common with such animals, and that people often relate to it only after major natural disaster.
An earthquake is said to cause S and P waves. The seismic P (primary) waves travel faster than S (secondary) waves, which cause the ground to shake. Seismologists consent that animals have the perfect ability to detect the initial P waves before humans and their machines detect the S waves. It is also believed that the changes in earth’s magnetic field have a larger impact on animals, which use magnetic fields to orientate themselves. Before the earthquake in California, Homing Pigeons seem to have strangely migrated, which is seen as a immediate reaction to the geomagnetic anomalies. However, it is not proved that animal or bird could distinguish between a change in the magnetic field caused by impending earthquake and a regular magnetic field variation.
The recent studies of Friedemann Freund & his team add some valid points to animal behavior before the seismic tremor. The animal warning system is also naturally seen as affordable and feasible to implement than the huge monitoring satellites. But, at the same time the role of animals in earthquake prediction is being opposed and ridiculed.