What Does Nature Sound Like?


Written by the BBCEarth Team

From a mighty clap of thunder to the subtle rustling of leaves, everywhere we go it feels as though we are immersed in sound. We decided to hunt down some of the planet’s lesser-known sonic wonders.

Speaking sands

For nearly a century, man has been baffled by the sound of singing sand dunes. The songs they emit are almost as diverse as the countless theories about how they occur.

The sound is produced when the sand on the surface of dunes avalanches. It was once thought that these sounds were produced by the friction between the grains. More recent studies have revealed that the sound continues after the sand has stopped moving and the song that the dunes sing varies depending on the time of year. Some researchers now theorize that the sound is caused by the reverberation between dry sand at the surface and a band of wet sand within the dune, hence it changes seasonally.

There are approximately thirty locations around the world where these booming dunes can be heard; the earliest records seem to date to Marco Polo’s time in the Gobi Desert. However you don’t need to adventure among the dunes to hear them sing; the strange sound, said to be like the drone of a low-flying propeller plane, has reportedly been heard up to ten kilometres away from its source.

Stirring Ice

The ferocious noise made by popping or cracking ice maybe a worrying sound to the lay ear — particularly if you are standing on top of it at the time. However to researchers working in the field of climate science the groaning of the polar landscapes is music to their ears.

Scientists have started to record the sound that the ice makes as it recedes, using hydrophones to measure the amount of glacial melting. Mapping the sea floor using sonar is not a new phenomenon but in this new application instead of sending pulses of sound to the sea floor and timing their return, glaciologists just simply listen. Looking at the interface between ice, ocean and bedrock it may be possible to use acoustics to measure the glacial melt.

You can almost hear the glaciers heave a sigh of relief.



Mysterious seas

The familiar sounds of the sea are captured in the incredible soundtracks of natural history documentaries as well as inside seashells when they are held up to our ears. The sound transports us to the blue planet that covers over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.

In the summer of 1997, a number of hydrophones in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean picked up a bizarre new sound phenomenon. The underwater microphones picked up a signal that rose rapidly in frequency for about a minute before disappearing. The sound was picked up repeatedly by US government microphones for the duration of that summer but has not been heard since. It became known as ‘The Bloop’ and was detected by sensors over a range of 5,000 kilometers.

Initial tracking suggested that the sound profile of ‘The Bloop’ was comparable to that of a living animal. However it was far louder than any whale song ever recorded.

The mystery remains just a drop in the ocean of the hundreds of mysterious sounds that make our planet a sonic wonder.

This post was originally published by BBCEarth.


Photo from shareski via flickr


Carl Karasti
Carl Karasti7 years ago

@Alison - Those same statements made me wonder, too, and then I decided the authors (BBCEarth Team) were simply waxing a bit poetic and not clearly stating what was meant - or at least not providing a clear path to those statements.

I think, from a purely objective scientific point of view, there is "good" to be found in listening to these sounds of the ice if they can be gathered and interpreted in a way that reveals further much needed and much desired data that will help better understand the workings of Mother Nature. Thus, the addition of more data would be "music to their ears" because more pieces of the puzzle would be more clearly revealed. But a scientifically minded appreciation of that "good" would not in any way imply that it is in any other way "good" that the ice is melting and making those sounds.

Being able to "hear the glaciers heave a sigh of relief" seems to me to be poetic and anthropomorphic commentary indicating that Mother Earth may be sighing, through the sounds of the ice, in relief that we humans may actually be getting closer to knowing and understanding that we are doing many things to the Earth that have serious negative impacts, and that we may change our behavior for the better of all beings, including Mother Earth. And that would be good. Hope that helps.

Alison V.
Alison Venugoban7 years ago

I don't understand these two statements:
"However to researchers working in the field of climate science the groaning of the polar landscapes is music to their ears." and "it may be possible to use acoustics to measure the glacial melt. You can almost hear the glaciers heave a sigh of relief."

Why are these two things good? Because it proves the ice is melting? I'm confused.

Cathy Noftz
Cathy Noftz7 years ago

~This article was really amazing~I heard some sounds on a story by Nat. Geo.~It's really cool to listen to nature's sounds!!~

Rosemary G.
Rosemary G7 years ago

Very few people listen to the sound of silence, the sound of nature because they walk around with earplugs blasting loud music into their ears and isolating themselves of what is really happening around them.
Humans are inherently stupid and unaware of what is happening around them.They do not care and life is passing them by without them realizing the beauty around them..Poor little insignificant human animals.

Gloria Morotti
Gloria Morotti7 years ago

Thanks for very interesting information.

Katherine F.
Katherine F.7 years ago

I can see why the world is full of sound today, it is because of natural forces within the planet that help us understand our ecosystem more.

Isabel Araujo
Isabel Araujo7 years ago

The world is alive with the sound of music.... Thank you.

Lynn C.
Past Member 7 years ago

What a fabulous photo of a sand dune! Loved the whole article. Thank you.

Christy Birmingham

I really like the section about 'stirring ice', what a great image!

Sue Matheson
Sue M7 years ago

very interesting. thanks.