Our stories often discuss how human activities change the natural environment. With most of us confined to our homes, the lack of human activities is having profound effects on the environment. We are talking about some of these this week.
With about a third of the world’s population sheltering in place, our planet is much quieter these days. It isn’t just our machines, vehicles, and factories that are making less noise. The earth itself is quieter. There has been a reduction in the earth’s seismic vibrations.
According to the journal Nature, various human-powered movements contribute to the persistent vibration of the earth’s crust. Things like engines firing up in factories, trains pulling into stations, and trucks barreling down highways all make contributions to seismic activity. Taken individually, such things are insignificant, but taken together, they produce a background of seismic noise that makes it difficult for seismologists to detect natural signals such as volcanic activity and earthquake aftershocks.
With much human activity on pause during the coronavirus outbreak, seismologists across the globe are seeing significant reductions in background seismic noise levels.
This respite in seismic noise, for as long as it lasts, represents an opportunity for scientists to better study the natural activity in the earth’s crust. Researchers studying the impact of ocean waves to predict volcanic activity and those who triangulate the location of earthquake epicenters may be able to make more sensitive measurements than under normal conditions.
There are very few positive things one can say about the coronavirus crisis, but it is providing opportunities to study and observe aspects of the natural world that are ordinarily drowned out by the bustle of humanity.
Photo, posted March 9, 2020, courtesy of Jeremy Segrottvia Flickr.