STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

The coronavirus pandemic is making Earth vibrate less

Once-crowded city streets are now empty. Highway traffic has slowed to a minimum. And fewer and fewer people can be found milling about outside.Global...

Posted: Apr 4, 2020 10:39 AM

Once-crowded city streets are now empty. Highway traffic has slowed to a minimum. And fewer and fewer people can be found milling about outside.

Global containment measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus have seemingly made the world much quieter. Scientists are noticing it, too.

Around the world, seismologists are observing a lot less ambient seismic noise -- meaning, the vibrations generated by cars, trains, buses and people going about their daily lives. And in the absence of that noise, Earth's upper crust is moving just a little less.

Thomas Lecocq, a geologist and seismologist at the Royal Observatory in Belgium, first pointed out this phenomenon in Brussels.

Brussels is seeing about a 30% to 50% reduction in ambient seismic noise since mid-March, around the time the country started implementing school and business closures and other social distancing measures, according to Lecocq. That noise level is on par with what seismologists would see on Christmas Day, he said.

Less noise means seismologists can detect smaller events

The reduction in noise has had a particularly interesting effect in Brussels: Lecocq and other seismologists are able to detect smaller earthquakes and other seismic events that certain seismic stations wouldn't have registered.

Take, for example, the seismic station in Brussels. In normal times, Lecocq said, it's "basically useless."

Seismic stations are typically set up outside urban areas, because the reduced human noise makes it easier to pick up on subtle vibrations in the ground. The one in Brussels, however, was built more than a century ago and the city has since expanded around it.

The daily hum of city life means that the station in Brussels wouldn't typically pick up on smaller seismic events. Seismologists would instead rely on a separate borehole station, which uses a pipe deep in the ground to monitor seismic activity.

"But for the moment, because of the city's quietness, it's almost as good as the one on the bottom," Lecocq said.

Seismologists in other cities are seeing similar effects in their own cities.

Paula Koelemeijer posted a graph on Twitter showing how noise in West London has been affected, with drops in the period after schools and social venues in the United Kingdom closed and again after a government lockdown was announced.

Celeste Labedz, a PhD student at the California Institute of Technology, posted a graph showing an especially stark drop in Los Angeles.

Still, seismologists say the reduction in noise is a sobering reminder of a virus that has sickened more than one million people, killed tens of thousands and brought the normal rhythms of life to a halt.

It shows people are heeding lockdown rules

Lecocq said the graphs charting human noise are evidence that people are listening to authorities' warnings to stay inside and minimize outside activity as much as possible.

"From the seismological point of view, we can motivate people to say, 'OK look, people. You feel like you're alone at home, but we can tell you that everyone is home. Everyone is doing the same. Everyone is respecting the rules,'" he said.

The data can also be used to identify where containment measures might not be as effective, said Raphael De Plaen, a postdoctoral researcher at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

"That could be used in the future by decision makers to figure out, 'OK, we're not doing things right. We need to work on that and make sure that people respect that because this is in the interest of everyone.'"

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2392060

Reported Deaths: 55066
CountyCasesDeaths
Kings31909610743
Queens30607510153
Suffolk2281703519
Nassau2071043257
Bronx2021556693
New York1619224606
Westchester1409342328
Erie992591884
Richmond858401905
Monroe782541156
Orange54619887
Rockland50943769
Onondaga45981715
Dutchess33827485
Albany28513368
Oneida25899552
Niagara22183383
Broome21898385
Saratoga18468191
Ulster16373271
Schenectady15325216
Rensselaer13364154
Putnam1187096
Chautauqua10980157
Oswego9667101
Chemung9112146
St. Lawrence8975118
Ontario856998
Steuben8489160
Cayuga7942101
Sullivan782781
Jefferson752171
Wayne701378
Cattaraugus675098
Genesee6097131
Herkimer6030117
Tompkins597459
Clinton571634
Madison542698
Fulton532197
Livingston520467
Montgomery5112133
Cortland484070
Warren472576
Columbia4664108
Tioga443467
Chenango421286
Otsego417751
Allegany403893
Greene397283
Washington396763
Wyoming392354
Orleans367784
Franklin356416
Lewis321836
Delaware309041
Seneca248959
Schoharie208320
Essex195129
Yates140726
Schuyler128916
Hamilton4083
Unassigned13533
Out of NY0291
Utica
Partly Cloudy
66° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 66°
Oneonta
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 61°
Herkimer
Partly Cloudy
66° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 66°
Old Forge
Cloudy
66° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 66°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
NEW Game Day Deals each week
Follow the 2021 Go the Distance Team - sponsored by Gilroy Kernan & Gilroy
Chapter Photofacial Therapy Giveaway
Looking for work or looking to hire? Check out the WKTV Job Fair!
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve