COVID-19 Societal Response Captured by Seismic Noise in China and Italy

Han Xiao, Zachary Cohen Eilon, Chen Ji, & Toshiro Tanimoto

Published August 5, 2020, SCEC Contribution #10876

Seismic noise with frequencies above 1 Hz is often called ‘cultural noise’ and is generally correlated quite well with human activities. Recently, cities in mainland China and Italy imposed restrictions on travel and day-to-day activity in response to COVID-19, which gave us an unprecedented opportunity to study the relationship between seismic noise above 1 Hz and human activities. Using seismic records from stations in China and Italy, we show that seismic noise above 1 Hz was primarily generated by the local transportation systems. The lockdown of the cities and the imposition of travel restrictions led to a ~4-12 dB decrease in seismic noise power in mainland China. Data also show that different Chinese cities experienced distinct periods of diminished cultural noise, related to differences in local response to the epidemic. In contrast, there was only ~1-6 dB decrease of seismic noise power in Italy, after the country was put under a lockdown. The noise data indicate that traffic flow did not decrease as much in Italy, and show how different cities reacted distinctly to the lockdown conditions.

Xiao, H., Eilon, Z., Ji, C., & Tanimoto, T. (2020). COVID-19 Societal Response Captured by Seismic Noise in China and Italy. Seismological Research Letters, 91(5), 2757-2768. doi: 10.1785/0220200147.