Lockdown quiet a boon for Australian seismologists

Photo credit: Kate Trifo from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

The pandemic had changed human behavior worldwide in that many people are now working from home, cancelling plans for travel, limiting their trips to stores and restricting their shopping, and communicating with family and friends largely through phone conversations, online video chats, and emails. Although there has been more activity lately, the changes in human activity during the pandemic has resulted in cleaner air and a quieter environment. And in Australia, this less noisy environment has provided “a boon for earthquake scientists,” as reported Meghan S. Miller and Louis Moresi in The Conversation.

In Australia, seismometers maintained by school students, referred to as “our next generation of geophysicists,” have reflected the change in school and schoolyard sounds during the pandemic. The schools that were closed down saw the disappearance of the usual sounds from students and teachers. By contrast, at one school which remained open, the seismometer reported the sounds that were commonly associated with schools. Then when restrictions were eased and schools were reopened, the noise levels “were back to ‘normal” except for what is usually observed for Saturday morning sports.” Sporting events did not return. That groups of students were keeping track of sound levels impacted by the pandemic is impressive and I believe they will put the information they have gathered to good use.

The article continues, describing how the quieter environment in Australian cities due to the pandemic also has allowed for the study of the occurrence of smaller earthquakes in certain areas that would have been “drowned out by the traditional background noise.” These observations are valuable to the scientists who can now use such data to determine potential “seismic hazards.”

If queried, I am certain that most people, if not all, would have opted for a world without this horrific pandemic that has taken many lives, exposed people to much pain and suffering, and cost so many people their jobs and livelihood. But what this article is pointing to are scientific observations this pandemic permitted that in the long run could protect our planet.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

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