The Surprising Link Between COVID and This One Natural Disaster

The lockdowns have made it easier to predict this potentially-deadly disaster.

There's no denying that the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live our lives. Around the world, people are avoiding the activities they used to do every day without thinking, from shopping in stores to venturing into the office. While shutdowns have had an undeniably brutal economic impact, with nearly 32 million people out of work in the U.S. alone, the lack of human activity around the world has a surprising silver lining: It's making it easier for scientists to detect earthquakes.

seismograph indicating earthquake activity
Shutterstock/Andrey VP

In a July 2020 study published in the journal Science, researchers found that people sticking closer to home amid the pandemic has lessened the amount of noise caused by human beings by approximately 50 percent on a global scale. By tracking data from 117 countries, the scientists found that human-generated noise dropped dramatically in the beginning of 2020, starting with a reduction in noise in China in January, shortly after the virus had begun spreading. The noise reductions subsequently spread throughout Europe and other continents as lockdowns took hold in other countries from March through May.

So, what does this mean in terms of earthquakes? With the din created by human activity significantly dampened, it's become easier for scientists to hear seismic noises that would otherwise be drowned out. This enables researchers to pick up on sound cues that might indicate the seismic shifts that precede earthquakes. The reduction in noise was particularly apparent during daylight hours, during which researchers were able to hear significantly clearer indications of seismic activity in typically busy urban areas.

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"With increasing urbanization and growing global populations, more people will be living in geologically hazardous areas," explained the study's lead author Thomas Lecocq, PhD, a seismologist from the Royal Observatory of Belgium, in a statement. Lecocq noted that with population increases in urban areas—and the greater noise associated with them—it will be particularly important in the near future "to differentiate between natural and human-caused noise so that we can 'listen in' and better monitor the ground movements beneath our feet." And for another surprising intersection between the pandemic and nature, discover how This Rare Weather Event Is About to Make Coronavirus Even Worse.

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