Photo credit: Atomicdragon136 licensed under CC BY 4.0

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

When I accessed the National Geographic article by Maya Wei-Haas, “These charts show how coronavirus has ‘quieted’ the world,” I wondered how much thought seismologists had paid to urban noise before the coronavirus. I knew that geology and related disciplines studied seismic noise and that the study for seismologists focused on the persistent vibrations of the ground and its relationship to earthquakes. However, as Wei-Haas writes, “[a]n added benefit of the reduction in background” is the opportunity to study phenomena not readily permissible in the “daily hubbub of human life.” With scientists tracking the reduction in noise in cities around the world, it turns out that seismologists may now be able to detect distant earthquakes that would have been missed in a noisier time.

Additionally, seismologists using fiber optic networks have able to study the lower traffic sounds in a way that may allow them to “manage movement of people in future crises.” That these scientists were able to apply their skills to analyze seismic data in a new way because of the unusual quiet has been a boost in morale, as they say their analysis “makes us feel busy in a positive and helpful way.”

As an individual long interested in lessening the din in our environment, I wonder if the scientists, who are excited about the opportunity to analyze data in a new way because of this unprecedented global quieting, will consider joining advocates for a less noisy environment. Studying the phenomena that are central to their area of research in a quieter world might lead to technological advancements that could be more protective of the earth and its many species.