Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from David Appell

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.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.