Highway with No Cars

A Quieter World

The novel coronavirus pandemic has radically upended human life as we know it. From our daily routines of purchasing food at the market to the rather mundane commute to work, the world has been brought to a standstill by the outbreak. Amidst the catastrophic repercussions of the virus, a significant yet subtle byproduct lingers. The world has gone quieter. As people stopped commuting, nonessential businesses temporarily closed, and social events shuttered, the Earth’s surface vibrated less. Seismologists tracked the change of the ambient seismic noise through a global network of seismometers that have been constantly registering these oscillations. In Brussels, seismic activity since the advent of COVID-19 is about 50 percent lower than average while In Nepal there has been an 80 percent drop. The source of this decline can be attributed to the government-issued stay-at-home orders and social distancing health guidelines that have virtually halted most of the world’s economic activity.

The human footprint has lessened, the hum of daily life has quieted. Environmental seismologist Celeste Labedz, a Ph.D. student at the California Institute of Technology, says that the heightened stillness and fewer noises in our environment during self-quarantine could enable seismologists to detect faint earthquakes they previously could have missed for the first time. The lack of vibrations on the Earth’s crust and the quietness may also help scientists study the natural buzzes of our planet that fall into a similar frequency band as human activity. In the midst of this present reality, the scientific community has an opportunity to quantify just how big of an impact we humans have on our Earth in terms of noise production. We could use this state of less noise as a model, where we can learn to efficiently replicate it in a sustainable way when this crisis comes to a close and we resume our daily lives.