- Birds and bugs startled by this weekend's earthquake in Oklahoma appeared on the radar of the National Weather Service. (NOAA)
Is monitoring the flight patterns of the birds and bees the future of earthquake forecasting?
Probably not! But it's a fascinating idea nonetheless, and one that scientists had a chance to study this weekend. Late Saturday night, as a magnitude 5.6 earthquake was shaking Oklahoma, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Norman detected something odd spreading across their Doppler radar. It turned out the device's beam was encountering thousands upon thousands of birds and bugs flying around at low altitude. The critters apparently had been startled into the air when the quake struck near Shawnee, Okla.
When the major shaking died down, the birds and insects went back to roost for some shuteye. Here's what that looked like on the radar:
It's comforting to know that if the animals decide to rise up and take over the world, meteorologists will be able to track them on radar. It doesn't matter how small the organisms are; if there are enough of them to provide a little density, radar will outline their location.
Last New Year's Eve, for instance, radar picked up the doomed flock of blackbirds that mysteriously died en masse in Beebe, Ark. (Creepily enough, that radar signature was itself shaped like a bird.) And in June 2001, a NWS Doppler scanned a gigantic mayfly orgy along the romantic shores of Michigan's Lake St. Clair. This is a still from 9:50 p.m. as the insectoid "mating tango" was in full effect:
The trick also works on bats. Here is a radar-based 3D rendering of a "bio-cloud" of Brazilian free-tailed bats as they exited Texas' Bracken Cave in 2009:
Image courtesy Winifred F. Frick et al. Full source document here.
Finally, this 1999 radar image shows Purple Marlins waking up in the morning and flying out to find food around Atlanta, a behavior that creates expanding "roost rings" on radar screens. There are at least nine roost rings in the full radar sequence, an animation of which you can find here.
Image courtesy of Clemson University Radar Ornithology Lab / weatherTAP.com