The coronavirus is really harshin’ our vibe — but in one big way, that’s a good thing.
Our home planet literally vibrates as a result of human movement — from driving cars to industry to sporting events and concerts. However, lately, that seismic hum has dulled to a whisper thanks to the pandemic lockdown. As a result, we have now entered the quietest period of manmade seismic noise recorded in history, dubbed the “anthropause,” according to scientists.
“This quiet period is likely the longest and largest dampening of human-caused seismic noise since we started monitoring the Earth in detail using vast monitoring networks of seismometers,” said seismologist Stephen Hicks, from Imperial College London in the UK. “Our study uniquely highlights just how much human activities impact the solid Earth, and could let us see more clearly than ever what differentiates human and natural noise.”
And now, the lack of noise pollution could make it easier to track and predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Data collected from 268 seismic monitoring stations throughout 117 countries reflected this drastic reduction of noise readings. Outside of the COVID-19 era, these potentially life-saving facilities are set up to monitor Earth’s many movements. Usually, the anthropogenic hum interferes with gathering the clearest reading of seismic shift.
“With increasing urbanization and growing global populations, more people will be living in geologically hazardous areas,” said lead study author Thomas Lecocq, seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, whose study was published in the journal Science on Thursday.
“It will therefore become more important than ever to differentiate between natural and human-caused noise so that we can ‘listen in’ and better monitor the ground movements beneath our feet,” Lecocq explained. “This study could help to kick-start this new field of study.”
The planet’s stillness since February has established a new baseline for human activity, which will better help scientists analyze future data and the degree to which we’ve affected the Earth’s vibrations since the pre-industrial era. This new starting point will help researchers better predict impending seismic dangers.
“The lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have given us a glimmer of insight into how human and natural noise interact within the Earth,” Hicks said.
“We hope this insight will spawn new studies that help us listen better to the Earth and understand natural signals we would otherwise have missed.”
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