Can Elephants Sense Tsunamis Before they Happen?

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Tsunamis are large waves created by earthquakes or other large disturbances in the ocean like landslides. The low vibrations created by such an earthquake sometimes cannot be detected by humans, whereas larger animals like elephants can sense the vibrations earlier. Anecdotal evidence suggests that animals will sometimes behave differently before a natural hazard, and a laboratory study showed that silkworms will display anomalous behavior when exposed to vibrations such as those in an earthquake. When these earthquakes are big enough and happen close to land, a tsunami can carry waves more than 100 feet tall into coastal areas. Tsunamis are a serious threat to ecosystems and humans. Tsunami-detection buoys are now in place throughout the Pacific Ocean, and are being distributed throughout the Atlantic. Very few detection buoys are implemented in the Indian Ocean, however, where one of the world’s deadliest tsunami occurred in 2004, killing 230,000 people. Above, an elephant pulls wreckage from the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.

Guiding Questions

  • Do animals have better instincts to survive natural hazards?
  • How tall can waves from a tsunami get?
  • What causes a tsunami?
  • Where are tsunamis likely to occur?
  • How are earthquakes and tsunamis connected?
  • How can people prepare for tsunamis?
  • What warning systems are in place for tsunamis?
  • How can we make this technology accessible to vulnerable populations who might not have the infrastructure to prepare for natural hazards?


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External Resources

Cross-cutting Concepts

  • C3: Scale Proportion and Quantity
  • C5: Energy and Matter

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS2.B: Plate Tectonics & Large Scale Interactions
  • ESS3.B: Natural Hazards