Seismometers, designed to measure the Earth’s surface velocity or acceleration, are primariloy utilized for traditional scientific goals like earthquake detection, nuclear test ban treaty monitoring, and attempting to map out our planet’s interior. But, as any seasoned seismologist can attest, these devices pick up a lot more than just what we’re looking for. In fact, during grad school, a favorite procrastination technique of mine was to go looking for interesting signals in seismic data.

Looking for non-traditional seismic  sources, I found data from building explosions, construction noise, and even from meteorites exploding in the upper atmosphere. This week, seismologist Jackie Caplan-Auerbach found a new signal – a Taylor Tremor.

Now, I must confess, while I may personally lean towards the more traditional country style of George Strait, I cannot deny the immense popularity of Taylor Swift and the fervor she ignites among her legions of fans. Concerts are a great source of vibration.There are speakers stacked high on the ground creating massive pressure waves to keep attendees’ ears ringing for hours; fans jumping, clapping, and dancing in sync; and heavy stage equipment moving. It makes sense that these timed movements of mass should create seismic energy, and that’s exactly what Dr. Caplan-Auerbach found when she pulled up the data from a seismometer near Taylor’s recent performances in Seattle. 

She compared data for two nights of the performance and determined that they were basically identical. Again, this makes sense as the show is a pre-planned sequence of songs and fans are likely to all react in a very similar way. There was a slight time offset, but that is attributed to the show being delayed slightly on the second night. If the two signals are put on top of each other, the magnitude, shape, and duration are practically identical.


Seattle, it seems, has a knack for making seismic waves in more ways than one. Back in 2011 a touchdown by the Seahawks triggered a fan frenzy of such seismic proportions that it earned the endearing moniker of “Beast Quake”. And yet, even this seismic spectacle pales in comparison to the fervor of Swifties, whose collective activity generated nearly double the acceleration. 

The precision of scientific instruments is impressive and they don’t just record what the principal investigator watns to study (earthquakes in this case), but all signals around them. Generally we filter out the “junk”, but sometimes the signal in the noise can be just as interesting as what we were looking for!

John Leeman
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