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Global quieting of high-frequency seismic noise due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures

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Science  11 Sep 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6509, pp. 1338-1343
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd2438

The great seismic quiet period

Noise from trains, airplanes, industrial processes, and other sources is recorded on seismometers worldwide. Disentangling this noise is important for extracting out natural signals, but the noise can also roughly track population movements. Lecocq et al. compiled seismic observations around the world and found a substantial decrease in noise resulting from lockdown measures imposed in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic (see the Perspective by Denolle and Nissen-Meyer). These observations tightly correspond to when the measures went into effect and offer a way to track aggregate behavior. This quiet period also offers the chance to extract anthropogenic sources of noise from those of natural processes.

Science, this issue p. 1338; see also p. 1299

Abstract

Human activity causes vibrations that propagate into the ground as high-frequency seismic waves. Measures to mitigate the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused widespread changes in human activity, leading to a months-long reduction in seismic noise of up to 50%. The 2020 seismic noise quiet period is the longest and most prominent global anthropogenic seismic noise reduction on record. Although the reduction is strongest at surface seismometers in populated areas, this seismic quiescence extends for many kilometers radially and hundreds of meters in depth. This quiet period provides an opportunity to detect subtle signals from subsurface seismic sources that would have been concealed in noisier times and to benchmark sources of anthropogenic noise. A strong correlation between seismic noise and independent measurements of human mobility suggests that seismology provides an absolute, real-time estimate of human activities.

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