Apr 1, 2020 - Health

The days the Earth stood still

In this image, an empty street

A street in New York City emptied out by social distancing. Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Social distancing measures around the world are so great they have actually caused the Earth to move less.

The big picture: There is no shortage of ways to measure how much responses to the pandemic have slowed human movement. But the idea that the planet itself has become stiller is truly mind-blowing.

In a story in Nature, Elizabeth Gibney reported that scientists are detecting a drop in seismic noise that could be due to the suspension of transportation and other forms of human movement.

  • Noise reduction of this magnitude usually only occurs briefly during Christmas, when much of the world is on holiday.
  • Data from a seismometer at the Royal Observatory of Belgium found social distancing measures had caused human-induced seismic noise to fall by a third in Brussels.

Why it matters: Beyond giving us one more sign of just how frozen in place the world has become, the drop in background noise should help city-based seismic detectors pinpoint the location of earthquake aftershocks. Which is good, just in case the Earth throws us another curveball.

Go deeper: More unexpected consequences of the pandemic

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