Smart dog collar could help warn of imminent earthquakes

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Animal Alerts initiative aimed to notify Lima, Peru residents of imminent earthquakes with the use of a health monitoring wearable device.

Animal Alerts

Image courtesy of Animal Alerts

The Animal Alerts project has launched a new initiative in Lima, Peru aimed at detecting and warning residents of earthquakes. At the heart of the project— a collaboration of animal care, technology, science, and media industry experts—led by Rachel Grant, behavioral ecologist, and senior lecturer at the London South Bank University in England, is the PetPace smart collar, which is used to monitor dogs’ health.1

In real-time, this collar collects and records health data like pulse, temperature, and respiration. The dog’s stress level is then determined relative to the recorded data and AI algorithms. A simultaneous increase in stress levels among dogs throughout Lima could indicate an imminent earthquake.1

“It's been shown in many systematic studies that animals often behave differently prior to earthquakes,” Grant said in a news release. “Animal Alerts, with the use of PetPace AI technology, allows us, for the first time, to collect reproducible physiological data in real time which could help with short term earthquake risk forecasting.”1 

As close human companions with sharp senses, dogs prove to be especially useful models of behavior change in animals prior to seismic activity.1 According to the American Kennel Club, a dog’s nose is at least 100,000 times more sensitive than a human nose, with the smell-processing part of the canine brain being 7 times larger.2 They can also hear high-pitched noises that humans cannot detect.3

As a high seismic zone, Peru experiences 90% of global seismic activity because of its position along the Pacific Ring of Fire,1 making the development of a system to alert residents of earthquakes via different media outlets a vital project. “There is an urgent need for innovative approaches to warn the public before an earthquake, especially since Lima's infrastructure is extremely vulnerable to seismic activity. And so, a timely alert from Animal Alerts could help save countless lives,” Carlos G. Brown, geographer, urban planner, and disaster risk management expert of TECHO Peru, said in the press release.1

However, Earthquake geologist Wendy Bohon, PhD, was not convinced about the new initiative’s success given the difficulty of predicting earthquakes.3“I have never seen a convincing study that shows that animals can predict earthquakes, or that animals know that an earthquake is going to happen before it happens," said Bohon in an ABC News article.3

She later added, "Sometimes animals might feel the arrival of the waves from far away that are too small for us to feel, and so we don't notice those first small waves arriving...it may seem like the animals are predicting the earthquake, when in reality they're reacting to the first arrivals of the waves that we're just not tuned into."3

Still, a 2020 study conducted by scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and the University of Konstanz in Germany revealed the observation of increased activity in certain animals before seismic events. The investigators studied the behavior of dogs, cows, and sheep near the epicenter of a 6.6 magnitude earthquake in central Italy in October 2016, noting strong reactions prior to earthquakes of magnitude 3.8 or higher when the animals were together in a stable. Equipped with bio loggers and GPS sensors, the animals seemed to forecast earthquakes up to 20 hours in advance, with earlier reactions observed when the animals were closer to the epicenter.3,4

References

  1. Animal Alerts powered by PetPace™ turns pet health data into earthquake warnings. News release. PetPace. May 20, 2024. Accessed May 21, 2024. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20240520194540/en
  2. Reisen J. The nose knows: Is there anything like a dog’s nose? American Kennel Club. November 2, 2022. Accessed May 21, 2024. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/the-nose-knows/
  3. Jacobo J. Wearable device could aid dogs in helping to predict earthquakes, but more research needed, critics say. ABC News. May 2, 2024. Accessed May 21, 2024. https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wearable-device-aid-dogs-helping-predict-earthquakes-creators/story?id=109745220
  4. Wikelski M, Mueller U, Scocco P, et al. Potential short‐term earthquake forecasting by Farm Animal Monitoring. Ethology. 2020;126(9). https://doi.org/10.1111/eth.13078
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