Singing, Booming, and Squeaking Sands

Jessica Morrison
27 May 2012

Sand can talk. In fact, in at least 40 places around the world, sand can ‘sing’.

Just when you thought that sand was one of the things you could count on to be totally normal and quiet, it turns out that it can be downright noisy, playing a droning symphony across the dunes.

Imagine you’re the great explorer Marco Polo. You’re wandering around the Gobi Desert, minding your own business and checking out the wildlife, when suddenly a loud, resonating drone begins to echo across the land. It sounds like a horde of giant bees is invading the dune. The sound even has a pleasant, musical quality.

Did you know? Singing sand can produce different sounds, from loud booms to sharp, high squeaks, depending on how they are created.

So what’s causing the sound? Scientists have been able to replicate the noises both in the lab (including one equipped with a cool sandbox and a mechanical spade) and in the field (working in various deserts around the world). They have discovered that the eerie drones are caused by sand grains colliding with each other. An avalanche of sand can create a low droning or booming sound. But it is also possible to produce short, high-pitched bursts of sound by moving sand with your hand, a shovel, or your foot.

Did you know? The frequency of the ‘singing’ can range anywhere from 70 Hz to 110 Hz.

Changes in the both the frequency and amplitude of the sound waves create a feeling of harmony and give the sound its musical qualities. Often, dunes of different sizes will produce the same sound frequencies.

Although scientists don’t have a crystal clear understanding of how ‘singing sand’ works, this natural phenomenon is certainly worth listening to with your own ears! Check out the video available here:

http://www.explorecuriocity.org/Content.aspx?ContentID=1701

For a list of the largest singing sand dunes on Earth, visit:

http://accessscience.com/studycenter.aspx?main=7&questionID=5538

References

Sand, Singing Dunes and Other Types of Sand Dunes

http://factsanddetails.com/world.php?itemid=1188&catid=52&subcatid=331

Booming Sand Dunes

http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/nv253/booming/abstracts/papers/HuntVriend10.pdf

Andreotti B. Sonic Sands. (2012) Rep Prog Phys 75 026602

http://iopscience.iop.org/0034-4885/75/2/026602

Songs of the dunes as a self-synchronized instrument. Physical Review Letters, 97, 018002 (2006)

http://factsanddetails.com/world.php?itemid=1188&catid=52&subcatid=331

Jessica Morrison

I am a children's author, zoologist and artist. You can find me online at www.about.me/jessmorrison or chat with me on Twitter! I'm @earthwards!


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