As City Life Wanes, A Sudden Quieting of the Anthropocene’s Roar

Seismologists with an ear to the ground are hearing less and less of the hum of human activity.

Air pollution is fading. Global energy use is declining. Wild animals are returning. As the pandemic continues to keep so many indoors and out of the economy, the environmental consequences continue to shock and amaze scientists across the planet.

This week, an article in the Times has uncovered yet another fascinating side effect of our collective disengagement: the sonic ecology of the planet, once a monstrous roar of footsteps, automobiles, factories, and airplanes, has faded to a distant murmur.

Armed with seismometers, geophysicists across the planet, from California to Belgium to Ecuador are unwittingly tracking the sonic effects of today’s “new normal” –– man-made ground movements are significantly down, in some places declining as much as 60%.

As a result, researchers have been able to tune in to the earth’s natural hum, a mix of tiny earthquakes, tectonic scrapings, and volcanic rumblings than ever before.

“We can detect smaller earthquakes,” Celeste Lebedz, a graduate student in geophysics at the California Institute of Technology told the Times, “just like how it’s easier to hear a phone ring in a library than at a rock concert.”

Other researchers interviewed say they can hear earthquakes originating from distant continents, listen in to deep underground faultlines, and hear a significantly less filtered soundtrack of the planet’s dark, churning interior.

Academic benefits aside, the sudden dip in global seismograph activity also tells us a lot about how humans are reacting to the crisis, with audible proof that more of us are beginning to take this seriously as we simply stop. moving. –– and let the essential workers keep the whole world running in its wake.

Read more on The New York Times.