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The coronavirus pandemic made the entire Earth quieter

Published Apr 2nd, 2020 7:07PM EDT
coronavirus news
Image: Reid Wiseman/NASA

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  • Coronavirus lockdown measures have forced daily life to change, and that means humans are making less noise on Earth. 
  • With less traffic and other human movements, seismologists are noticing huge dips in the amount of background seismic noise in their readings. 
  • A cleaner reading and less noise could give researchers a rare opportunity to capture particularly accurate data. 
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You don’t have to look far to see societal changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Daily life is different these days for a lot of people, and those changes seem to have extended to our planet itself. We’ve already seen examples of how areas with heavy air pollution have cleared up dramatically as people remain home for extended periods of time, and now a new phenomenon has been observed. The Earth is actually quieter.

As Newsweek reports, researchers have noticed a significant decrease in the amount of vibration on Earth’s surface. This “seismic noise” is created by human movements such as driving, construction work, and anything else that might make the ground shake. Well, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the whole planet is quite a bit quieter.

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps around the globe, lockdown measures have been put in place in many locations. Even in areas that aren’t under strict lockdowns are urged to avoid social gatherings and stay home if at all possible. With much of the planet playing by these new rules, there’s a lot less background noise on the seismic level.

Stephen Hicks, a seismologist with the Imperial College London, took to Twitter to reveal the results of some seismic data gathering that shows how dramatically things have quieted down. “The #covid19uk lockdown as seen by a seismometer,” Hicks writes. “This week has seen a reduction in average daytime background seismic noise.” He adds that the data “probably reflects less traffic out on the roads.”

When researchers are taking seismic readings they typically have to account for a steady hum of background noise no matter what. As a species, we tend to make a lot of noise no matter the time of day, but self-isolation and social distancing mandates have managed to change that in a big way. The frequencies that are quieter during this time are typically associated with daily human life, and that means that now could be a great opportunity for scientists to capture some particularly accurate readings without having to worry about so much human static messing up the data.

The various lockdowns and safety measures in place in the United States and many other countries are expected to remain in place for at least another month, if not longer. That means an extended stretch of quiet time for the planet as a whole, and researchers could take advantage of it.