In a study conducted in 117 countries, researchers have found that the world is experiencing the most dramatic reduction in the seismic noise (the hum of vibrations in the planet’s crust) in recorded history due to global Covid-19 lockdowns.
Measured by instruments called seismometers, seismic noise is caused by vibrations within the Earth, which travel like waves and the waves can be triggered by earthquakes, volcanoes, and bombs – but also by daily human activity like travel and industry.
This quiet period, likely caused by the total global effect of social distancing measures, closure of services and industry, and drops in tourism and travel, the study published in the journal Science, reported.
The new research, led by the Royal Observatory of Belgium and five other institutions around the world including Imperial College London (ICL), showed that the dampening of ‘seismic noise’ caused by humans was more pronounced in more densely populated areas.
“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,” said study co-author Stephen Hicks from ICL in the UK.
For the findings, the research team looked at seismic data from a global network of 268 seismic stations in 117 countries and found significant noise reductions compared to before any lockdown at 185 of those stations.
Researchers tracked the ‘wave’ of quietening between March and May as worldwide lockdown measures took hold.
The largest drops in vibrations were seen in the most densely populated areas, like Singapore and New York City, but drops were also seen in remote areas like Germany’s the Black Forest and Rundu in Namibia.
Citizen-owned seismometers, which tend to measure more localised noise, noted large drops around universities and schools around Cornwall, UK and Boston, US – a drop in noise 20 per cent larger than seen during school holidays.
The findings showed that countries like Barbados, where lockdown coincided with the tourist season, saw a 50 per cent decrease in noise.
“The changes have also given us the opportunity to listen in to the Earth’s natural vibrations without the distortions of human input,” the study authors wrote.
Earlier in April, a study published in the journal Nature, reported at least a 30 per cent reduction in that amount of ambient human noise since lockdown began in Belgium.