Feeds

Toads predict earthquakes: Official

React to positive airborne ions, boffins explain

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Scientists believe they have a plausible explanation for Italian toads' apparent ability to sense the imminent earthquake that struck the city of L'Aquila on 6 April 2009.

By chance, Dr Rachel Grant of the UK's Open University was monitoring a toad population at San Ruffino Lake, around 74km from the quake's epicentre. As we previously reported, five days before the 6.3-magnitude shake, "the number of male common toads in the breeding colony fell by 96 per cent", while "most breeding pairs and males fled" three days before the earth moved.

At the time, Grant speculated that this unusual behaviour - when the bufo bufo population at the lake should have been busy spawning - may have reflected the toads' instinct to escape to higher ground to avoid croaking it, "possibly where they would be at less risk from rock falls, landslides and flooding".

As to what stimulus caused the exodus, Grant's initial findings suggested that toads "are able to detect pre-seismic cues such as the release of gases and charged particles, and use these as a form of earthquake early warning system".

Cue further investigation in collaboration with a NASA team, which has indeed fingered charged particles as a likely cause of the toads unexpectedly hopping off.

The NASA scientists, led by geophysicist Dr Friedemann Freund, demonstrated that rocks under extreme tectonic stress release charged particles, which travel through the surrounding rock and into the atmosphere. Their electrical charge is sufficient to ionize the air, creating "massive amounts" of positive airborne ions.

The researchers cite "unusual pre-earthquake conditions in the ionosphere" around L’Aquila as evidence of such activity, which creates an unfriendly atmosphere for animal life.

Dr Freund explained to the BBC: "Positive airborne ions are known in the medical community to cause headaches and nausea in humans and to increase the level of serotonin, a stress hormone, in the blood of animals."

Furthermore, the ions might have reacted with the toads' pond water, brewing up potentially-toxic hydrogen peroxide.

The scientists conclude that there's "little doubt that anomalous animal behaviour does occur prior to major earthquakes", and that "given the variety of physical and chemical processes documented ... it would in fact be surprising if animals were not affected".

They note that their proposed "possible common mechanism" of pre-earthquake physical phenomena and animal behaviour requires further investigation to determine its future application in quake prediction.

The full findings are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, right here [PDF]. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.