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Professor: Less Human Noise Making Smaller Quakes Easier To Detect

Associated Press

Crack in the roadway from a large earthquake that hit Ridgecrest, Calif., in 2019.

Scientists around the world are reporting less activity on devices that measure seismic movements—tremors and quakes.

Professor Graham Kent is the director of the Nevada Seismological Lab in Reno. The lab measures seismic activity throughout the West. He said the global lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is actually helping seismologists.

"What's true across the entire world is that the seismic kind of noise floor or the amount of noise that humans put out that makes it hard for us to see small earthquakes has gone down dramatically," he said, "So, it's a lot easier, in a sense, to hear earthquakes right now." 


Kent said seismologists will now be able to detect more tremors during the global shutdown.

Coincidentally, the western United States is seeing a number of large earthquakes in Utah, Idaho, California and Nevada.

"Recently, not really just Nevada, but across the entire West, we're having really some of the most active seismicity or earthquakes since the early 90s," he said, "Unfortunately, it came right after the shutdown or social distancing that we've all been undertaking."

Besides watching for earthquakes, the lab also partners with other universities around the West to monitor a network of cameras that watch for wildfires.

Kent said everyone involved in firefighting efforts is trying to figure out how operations are going to work if there is a diminished workforce because of the virus and how to maintain social distancing while battling fires. 

"Now, it's going to rely more on early info, early detection, early strike capabilities," he said, "In a sense,  you have the pandemic over here but it's going to dramatically affect how we deal with just knocking fires down." 

Kent said people like to separate issues but if a major wildfire threatens communities and people need to be evacuated or there is a massive earthquake in an urban area - during the pandemic - those problems will all be mixed together.  


Graham Kent, UNR professor and director, Nevada Seismological Lab in Reno

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