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Seismic data featured in Natural History Museum project to highlight impact of Covid-19

BGS seismic data is featured in a Natural History Museum Public engagement initiative, showing changes in the movement of people, air and noise pollution, and wildlife sightings in the UK during lockdown.

01/10/2020

Data from the BGS seismology team, led by Dr Brian Baptie, has helped to illustrate a dramatic reduction in seismic activity and earth vibrations – or ‘noise’ – during lockdown.

The data was transformed into an illustration as part of ‘Nature in Lockdown’ a Natural History Museum public engagement initiative which is seeking to crowdsource research ideas and discover the environmental impacts of Covid-19 which people are most interested in.

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How the UK went quiet, copyright Natural History Museum.

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As part of the initiative, The Natural History Museum collaborated with data visualisation company Beyond Words, who approached BGS to help illustrate some of the environmental changes wrought by lockdown.

The seismic data was brought to their attention when BGS seismologists observed a drop in seismic activity throughout March 2020 in some locations across the UK.

Some areas of the UK were noisier during lockdown, but most of the country vibrated less; a pattern also noted by scientists in locations across Europe when entire countries were brought to a standstill.

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Dr Baptie said:

“We compared the average daytime noise levels at seismic stations in the UK in the two week period since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown with the average noise levels for the beginning of the year. The results show reductions in noise levels at most of our stations of between 10-50 per cent.

“We see that some of the biggest noise reductions are at sites closest to sources of human-generated noise. Much of our understanding about the Earth comes from observations of earthquakes. So in theory, this could lead to new insights about our planet.”

The Nature in Lockdown initiative draws on a variety of open source data and scientific databases, and also documents the dramatic drop in driving and public transport use, and the changes to sightings of both animals and birds.

The project, which has received funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, culminated in a live interactive virtual ‘Lates’ event on Friday 25 September during which audiences posed questions to young and emerging researchers about those topics.

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The Natural History Museum’s Executive Director of Engagement Clare Matterson says:

“These fascinating visualisations, the result of a collaboration between scientists, our digital teams and Beyond Words, bring to life some of the astonishing impacts lockdown has had on our environments and how we noticed and experienced nature in a new and different way.”

You can view the illustrations on The Natural History Museum website.

To find out more about how the BGS collects data to improve our understanding of earthquake hazards, visit: http://www.earthquakes.bgs.ac.uk

About the author

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Hannah Pole

Communications and media manager

BGS Keyworth
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