Rodents may predict the next big quake

The 10 biggest earthquakes recorded since 1900 have taken more than 1.5 million lives — not counting the toll from the 7.8 magnitude temblor in Nepal, which has killed over 8,000 and counting. There’s some hope that the big quakes of the future could be less lethal — because we’ll see them coming. Or at least, the rats will.

A research team working from three continents recently pored over data from a major earthquake in Peru and concluded that wild animals — especially rodents — know when the ground is about to buckle. Days before the 7-magnitude Contamana earthquake that struck a remote Andean village in 2011, motion-triggered cameras revealed that most wildlife in the Yanachaga-Chemillen national park had already fled the area, returning only after the quake had run its course.

Investigators caution that any conclusions are still tentative, but the initial findings are intriguing. By tracking wildlife, the researchers say they might be able develop a data-based early warning system that could help governments and first responders to evacuate danger areas.

Prior to the quake, rocks began to shift underground, generating electrical charges that reached surface water and released positive ions into the lower atmosphere. It was this ionized air that apparently made animals disoriented and hyperactive.

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