Shelter-In-Place and Its Impact on the Earth

Author: Krista Luehring

While sheltering in place due to COVID-19 is a devastating experience for so many people around the world creating job losses and isolation, there have been some positive repercussions.  By reducing air and car travel, by closing non-essential manufacturing plants, and keeping everyone home, the earth has shown a remarkable resilience. 

Ambient Seismic Noise – seismologist around the world have reported a radical drop in ambient seismic noise.  Ambient seismic noise is created by our regular everyday lives; the vibration of cars, trains, planes, and buses.  Because of this, the earth's upper crust is moving a little less[1], and scientists are able to detect smaller events, such as earthquakes, that they normally may not detect.

For example, scientists in Brussels are seeing a 30% to 50% reduction in ambient seismic noise since mid-March, which they say, is on par with what they see on a quiet Christmas Day.

Air Quality – Every day in every city around the world, scientist record the Air Quality Index (AQI).  By looking at the AQI from this same time in prior years, they can see a drastic drop in Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).  From the end of January to right now, several countries in Europe have reported NO2 declines anywhere from 26% to 47% depending on the region.

And in China, their Ministry of Ecology and Environment is saying the average number of "good quality air days" increased 21.5% in February, compared to the same period last year in Hubei province, the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Water Quality – In Venice, residents are talking about how clear the canal water has been since sheltering in place.  They now have clear views of shoals, of small fish, crabs and multicolored plant-life typically hidden by churning, muddy waters from boats.  As boat activity stops, the sediment on the canal floor rests[2].

Other water conditions improve because non-essential manufacturing plants aren’t sending runoff into waterways, fewer boats and ships are releasing fuel into the oceans, and reduced air pollution reduces the polluted rain runoff.

Wildlife – we’ve heard some funny things happening with wildlife since people around the world have sheltered in place.  Some stories are either fake news or old news, such as the dolphins swimming in the Venice canals (they have always done this) or elephants in China roaming around freely (old news).  But there are some fun and new findings. 

In Llandudno, a small town in Wales, Kashmiri goats have come down from the headlands to meander the streets, snack on grass and shrubs, all without human interference.  The typically shy goats have proved productive with helping trim hedges and all[3].

In Santiago, Chile, police along with the national zoo captured a wild puma found strolling the deserted streets during the night, likely having ventured down from the hills.  Pumas where native to the city before human habitation. 

Orca pods have been seen for the first time in decades swimming the Vancouver fjord, likely enjoying the calm and quiet boat free waters. 

Deer living in a popular park for tourists, have moved onto the city streets.  They are used to tourists feeding them, but now look for easy food elsewhere[4]

These effects are temporary and once things return to normal, our human activity will once again dominate.  But for a short time, we can appreciate the resilience of our planet and the other creatures who live on it.  I want to thank all of the scientists and zoologists who study our environment, who strive to educate us, and who work towards a cleaner future.

What can you do to be more environmentally friendly?  Read our blog about document scanning and sustainability.