April 17 (UPI) -- It's been suggested that dogs, cats and other animals can anticipate or predict an earthquake. For the first time, researchers have applied thorough scientific analysis to investigate the claim.
Scientists determined the evidence for such a claim is lacking. Your dog probably can't predict an earthquake.
Researchers analyzed 729 reports of abnormal animal behavior prior to 160 different earthquakes. In doing so, the scientists identified a series of problems that make the reports unreliable.
The majority of the reports, scientists found, fail to base the link between behavior and earthquake on clearly defined parameters, such as distance from the epicenter or earthquake magnitude. The reports also fail to account for similar behaviors that aren't followed by earthquakes.
Researchers determined the majority of reports are unscientific and anecdotal. They published their conclusions this week in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.
"Many review papers on the potential of animals as earthquake precursors exist, but to the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that a statistical approach was used to evaluate the data," Heiko Woith, a scientist at the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences, said in a news release.
The 729 reports included observations of animal behaviors occurring as many as a few months prior to an earthquake and as little as a few seconds before. The reports also included observations recorded from as far away as several hundred miles from the epicenter to as close as a few miles. All but 14 of the reports involved just single observations.
The unscientific nature of the reports makes it near impossible to determine whether the unusual animal behaviors are predictive or coincidence.
When researchers conducted a statistical analysis of the reports, including an analysis of data related to each report's timing and location, they found a correlation between abnormal behavior reports and foreshocks, rumblings that proceed the main seismic event.
The correlation suggests at least some reports of unusual animal behavior involve animal responses to physical phenomena.
"The animals may sense seismic waves -- it could P, S or surface waves -- generated by foreshocks," Woith said. "Another option could be secondary effects triggered by the foreshocks, like changes in groundwater or release of gases from the ground which might be sensed by the animals."
To truly determine whether animals can predict earthquakes, researchers require long-term observations, in addition to a quantitative definition of "unusual or abnormal behavior" and a physical explanation for the shift in behavior.