Widespread COVID-19 Lockdowns Are Reportedly Causing Earth to Shake Less

Researchers around the world noted a decrease in seismic noise as isolation measures continue.


Image via Getty/Universal History Archive


The world has grown much quieter as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The New York Times reports about half of the global population has been advised or ordered to self-isolate amid the public health crisis. Schools have closed, nonessential business have shut down, and an increasing number of people are staying home to avoid COVID-19 exposure. The widespread isolation has resulted in less human activity and, consequently, a lot less noise—so much so that researchers can more easily detect small seismic events that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

According to Nature, researchers who study Earth's movement have noticed a drop in seismic noise—vibrations in the planet's crust that are generated by traffic, construction, and other activities. One of the first experts to observe the drop was Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels. He noted that human-induced seismic noise decreased by about one-third around mid-March, as Belgium was implementing social distancing measures, such as school closures and banning non-essential travel. 

The reduction in seismic noise has allowed researchers to get more accurate readings of subtle seismic activity, like small earthquakes and aftershocks. Researchers in the US and UK have also shared similar observations via social media.

How does @Princeton "sound" different now that everyone must #stayathome? Here is the seismic "noise" we record in the basement of Guyot Hall. Campus really is quieter now, especially after the tighter restrictions were put in place. Code via @seismotom. pic.twitter.com/YqkRdHObaC

— Jessica Irving (@jess_irving) April 2, 2020

The #covid19UK lockdown as seen by a seismometer. This week has seen a reduction in average daytime background seismic noise level (purple line). Data is from @BGSseismology station SWN1 located close to the M4 motorway, so this probably reflects less traffic out on the roads. pic.twitter.com/uNhtKmeCdf

— Stephen Hicks 🇪🇺 (@seismo_steve) March 26, 2020

Lecocq told CNN researchers can use this data to encourage the continuation of social distancing, as it proves many people are complying with the guidelines.

"From the seismological point of view, we can motivate people to say, 'OK look, people. You feel like you're alone at home, but we can tell you that everyone is home,'" he said. "'Everyone is doing the same. Everyone is respecting the rules.'"

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