The big picture: The Covid-19 outbreak and the unprecedented steps taken by officials worldwide to stem the spread of the virus are unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed. It’s also having some unexpected – albeit, very welcome – side effects as recently highlighted by Nature.

Seismologists at the Royal Observatory of Belgium have noticed a drop in seismic noise, or the “hum” of vibrations present in the Earth’s crust, since Coronavirus containment measures were introduced.

In Brussels where the readings were taken, seismometers revealed that human-induced seismic noise created by moving vehicles and industrial machinery has fallen by about one-third.

With less “background noise” muddling up readings, the sensitivity of the observatory’s equipment has been increased and could better help seismologists detect smaller earthquakes and other seismic events.

Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, said a reduction of this variety is usually only observed around Christmas.

(Chart courtesy Stephen Hicks)

The effects of shelter in place orders could be more pronounced in some regions than others. As Emily Wolin, a geologist at the US Geological Survey in Albuquerque, New Mexico, notes, that’s because some monitoring stations are intentionally placed in remote regions to avoid interference from human activity. Such stations will likely seem a smaller decrease, or none at all, she said.

Masthead credit: vchal