Scientists tuned into the earth's sounds during lockdown

Katie Ramirez
July 25, 2020

For this study, the team-76 researchers from 66 institutions in 27 countries led by Dr Thomas Lecocq of the Royal Observatory of Belgium-used 300 seismometers around the world to record their data.

"This quiet period of time is probably the longest and biggest dampening of human-induced seismic noise because we begun checking the Earth in depth utilizing vast checking networks of seismometers", stated seismologist Stephen Hicks, from Imperial University London in the United kingdom.

Seismic noise is caused by vibrations within the Earth, which can be triggered by earthquakes and volcanoes but also bombs and daily human activity such as travel and industry.

Seismometers are sensitive scientific instruments to record vibrations traveling through the ground - known as seismic waves.

The global reduction in seismic noise. The strongest drops were found in urban areas, but the study also found signatures of the lockdown on sensors buried hundreds of metres underground and in more remote areas. It is much more than the quiet periods observed during holidays, weekends and even during nighttime. However, the drop in vibrations caused by COVID-19 lockdown measures eclipse even those seen during these periods. There are many ways to see the anthropause in action, from a drop in pollution levels to reduced mobility, and now, in seismic activity. Our new study, published in Science, is the first to analyse these changes at a global scale and shows a near-simultaneous reduction of this seismic noise around the world.

Their info reveals how the quieting started off in January in China, the origin of the Covid disaster, and then distribute like a wave to the rest of the world. The largest falls were in densely-populated areas such as NY and Singapore. The new study also added that the humming of the earth has dropped by 50 percent post the coronavirus outbreak. This coincided with flight data, according to which tourists were returning home several weeks before the official closure.

This months-long reduction in global seismic noise gave geoscientists an opportunity to spot natural events such as small earthquakes that may have otherwise remained undetected, especially during daytime when there is more human activity.

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Beyond offering another interesting insight into the effects of the pandemic, the research also opens up new pathways of study relating to human-generated noise and natural seismic vibrations.

In 2020, no earthquakes were observed, and the fall in anthropogenic seismic noise is unprecedented.

Previously concealed quake signals have been heard for the first time, and researchers say the lockdown quietening could open up new fields of research that improves detection of forthcoming natural disasters.

The own Lecoq says, "with increasing urbanization and the growth of populations around the world, more and more people will live in areas geologically hazardous".

"One day a volcano in Auckland's volcanic field will erupt but it will create seismic signals before that happens and this study reminds us that if humans made less noise, we would get an earlier warning", Dr van Wijk says.

Now an global study involving Professor Martha Savage from Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington's School of Geography, Environment, and Earth Sciences has shown there was also a significant measurable reduction in seismic noise.

Dr Hicks said: "The lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have given us a glimmer of insight into how human and natural noise interacts with the Earth".

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