How do scientists predict natural disasters

Disaster prediction - the sixth sense of animals

In March 2009, all of the common toads suddenly disappeared on Lake Ruffino in Abruzzo, Italy, in the middle of the spawning season: a few days later, an earthquake destroyed the nearby town of L’Aquila.

Chickens and water buffalo as lifesavers

When the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia rolled onto the coast in 2004, elephants, water buffalo and chickens fled inland. Some residents of the island of Simeulu die remembered the traditions of their ancestors and correctly interpreted the strange behavior of water buffalo and chickens. This enabled them to get to safety in good time before the tidal wave.

There have been plenty of reports of unusual animal behavior with the subsequent outbreak of a natural disaster - since ancient times. Scientific studies on this, on the other hand, are rare. It's hard to believe, given the potential that animals have in the sixth sense.

Early warning system on four legs

On the slopes of Mount Etna - Europe's most active and dangerous volcano - researchers led by behavioral biologist Martin Wikelski carried out a study. They equipped goats that graze on Mount Etna with GPS collars. Goat husbandry is a centuries-old tradition in Sicily.

For one summer, during which there were seven major eruptions on the volcano, every movement of the goats was recorded. The researchers were particularly interested in the behavior of the animals shortly before an outbreak. And indeed: around four to six hours before a volcanic eruption, the animals show a different, noticeable behavior.

Obviously the animals have a keen sense of what is going on inside the volcano. For the first time, a scientific study has shown that animals really have a sixth sense. So could we use animals as biosensors for impending natural disasters in the future?

Albatrosses warn of cyclones

Meteorologists are very interested in albatrosses. The birds fly over the ocean at a low altitude, in a zone that is also important for the formation of cyclones. Could animal observation make it possible to predict when and where such storms will occur?

The observation of storks would make a completely different prediction possible. Large gatherings of these animals can often be found where a plague of locusts causes the animals to gather around the table. Migrating swarms of locusts destroy entire harvests every year. Around a fifth of the world's population is affected.

In order to derive tangible rules or predictions from animal movements, researchers have to provide as many animal species as possible with transmitters and learn to correctly interpret the data obtained. The aim of the researchers working with Martin Wikelski is to use the animal world to set up global disaster monitoring in the future.