The Earth is feeling our vibes — or lack thereof — in the middle of a global lockdown to stop the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to scientists who listen to the planet’s internal noise for earthquakes.
The Earth isn’t exactly standing still, but humanity’s noisiest activities have virtually ground to a halt amid sweeping COVID-19 lockdowns, according to seismologist Thomas Lecocq of the Royal Observatory of Belgium. We aren’t using our trains, cars or industrial machines nearly as much as usual, and the planet isn’t vibrating as much because of it, Lecocq told the journal Nature.
Lecocq says the background noise under the planet’s surface has plunged by 30 to 50 per cent since mid-March when the World Health Organization first declared the virus a pandemic. The world usually only falls this quiet around Christmas, but humans have extended that quiet period for weeks now, according to Lecocq.
He says the data is good news for the coronavirus fight because it shows that people are taking it seriously.
“You feel like you’re alone at home, but we can tell you that everyone is home,” Lecocq told CNN. “Everyone is doing the same. Everyone is respecting the rules.”
Lecocq shared his readings from Brussels on Twitter, prompting other geoscientists to chime in with graphs showing similar dips in their own parts of the world. Reports have come pouring in from several regions, including London, New Jersey and France.
Update for Brussels (Station BE.UCCS): The background level remains low and stable (~-33%). We've added more time to the plot so last weeks are more in context. #StayHomeBelgium #StayAtHome #StayHome @CrisiscenterBE pic.twitter.com/bRSPeuxNcG
— Seismologie.be (@Seismologie_be) March 27, 2020
“The drop is seriously wild,” wrote graduate student Celese Labedz, who shared data from a monitoring station in traffic-heavy Los Angeles, Calif.
Many seismic monitoring stations are located far from busy cities where there is already less background noise. However, stations that occupy urban areas have been picking up more minute readings due to the lockdown, according to multiple seismologists.
“You’ll get a signal with less noise on top, allowing you to squeeze a little more information out of those events,” Andy Frassetto, a seismologist based in Washington, D.C., told Nature.
Lecocq says it might also be easier to detect earthquakes with a lower level of background noise during this pandemic.
“There’s a big chance indeed that it could lead to better measurements,” he said.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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