I very much enjoyed the story during the week about how the DIAS (Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies) shared their recording of seismic activity to show that there had been an uptick in human activity over the previous weekend - which the media, at least, seemed to decide was an uptick in traffic.
It led me to this article from a few weeks before, where Dr. Martin Möllhoff of the DIAS explained that day-to-day life 'results in small ground movements – for example, by cars, trains, building sites and other industries. These human-induced vibrations, called seismic noise by seismologists, vary with the human activity.
“Worldwide social restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic affect not only levels of air pollution, but also how much the ground beneath our feet vibrates.
“With the current Covid-19 restrictions on human movement, INSN seismic noise levels have been markedly reduced. In Ireland, seismic noise levels are now up to three times lower than they were before the restrictions were introduced.”
It struck me that this was a great example of how valuable original research can be: I don't imagine the DIAS budget was predicated on how useful it could be in the event of a global pandemic, but it was there when needed: knowing things can sometimes be useful, and is always valuable. In fact, anything that's interesting is valuable.
It also reminded me that the LC Physics syllabus-that-never-was (from 2013) included a study of seismic activity: the plan was that students would learn to
interpret relevant seismographic data to determine possible directions of first motion along faults (compare these with reference to GPS data)
interpret relevant seismographic data from a minimum of three recording stations to determine epicentres
interpret relevant seismic data to construct a model of the Earth’s cross-section by reference to the reflection and refraction of the seismic waves
outline the uses of P and S waves in the search for oil and gas • analyse information from computer simulations to identify the source of a seismic event
At the time I remember thinking that it looked quite interesting and that I'd like to learn more about, while also feeling a frisson of fear that I would be expected to teach it, while knowing precisely nothing about it.
It still could happen, of course, and I bet that somewhere in the country last week, somebody was looking at that story and wondering just how it could be turned into a good LC question....