COVID-19: Is Nature Hitting the Reset Button?

We have all heard of the saying every cloud has a silver lining and there cannot be a more befitting situation than the COVID-19 pandemic we are fighting today. With global death tolls that have surpassed 40,000 as of April 1 and many more infected, one might just wonder how could there ever be a blessing in this? Movement control orders and lockdowns might sound torturous to us humans, but the environment is clearly basking in the sudden decrease of human activities, especially destructive ones. 

The picture shows clear waters in a Venice canal taken on March 17, 2020 – CNBC

Venetian canals which attract millions of tourists each year are now deserted, as Italy plans to remain under lockdown until Easter due to the “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases reported.  Amidst all the COVID-19 chaos, the normally murky Venetian waterways have become apparently clearer due to fewer motorboats and pollution. This statement was even confirmed by a spokesperson from the Venice mayor’s office.

The water now looks clearer because there is less traffic on the canals, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom.

– Mayor of Venice’s Office
Air pollution image captured by NASA’s Earth Observatory pollution satellites before and during China’s lockdown period. – NASA

Traditionally, lower levels of NO2 will be observed in China during this period as factories close down and fewer vehicles are seen on the road in conjunction with Lunar New Year. The levels typically rose post-festival when businesses resumed. This year, however, was a different scenario as not only were the NO2 levels 10-30% lower than average, the levels remained stagnant due to lockdown and travel ban measures implemented. According to Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA, she has never seen such a huge drop in air pollution over one particular occurrence.

This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event.

– Dr Fei Liu

Did you ever know that increases in human activities are actually obstructing the detection of earth’s seismic activities? Geoscientists claim that human-induced seismic noises, which are actually vibrations in the earth’s crust caused by industrial machinery and transportations, serve as background noise which significantly reduces their ability to detect smaller earthquakes and volcanic activities occurring at the same frequency. A seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, Thomas Lecocq, claimed that human-induced seismic noise has dropped by one-third in Belgium since lockdown measures were implemented.

This is really getting quiet now in Belgium.

– Thomas Lecocq, Seismologist from Royal Observatory of Belgium

If all these do not hit us hard enough to realize how much we humans are contributing to pollution and climate change, then nothing else will.

Sources: CNBC 1 2 | ABC News | Nature

Written by Rajyashyree A/P Rajagopal