Skip to Content
Uncategorized

Singing Dunes

Several years ago I hiked up the Kelso Dunes in the Mohave Desert in California, then sat and slid down them to the bottom. If you’ve ever tried this, or heard a similar avalanche of sand, you know that the…
December 9, 2004

Several years ago I hiked up the Kelso Dunes in the Mohave Desert in California, then sat and slid down them to the bottom. If you’ve ever tried this, or heard a similar avalanche of sand, you know that the sand emits a distinctive and mysterious low whining sound, which some people call “singing” and some call “booming.” According to physicist Bruno Andreotti, who’s been studying the phenomenon, the noise can be as 105 decibels and, being low-frequency, can be heard up to 10 kilometers away.

Studying actual dunes, Andreotti found that vibrations in the sand act like slow-moving elastic sound waves that run across the surface of the dunes. The vibration of the sand bed tends to synchronize the collisions, and the surface of the sand bed acts like the membrane in a loudspeaker, accounting for the sound.

Try it next time you’re out in the desert.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.