October 30, 2019

A playlist of spooky sites and sounds

Posted by larryohanlon

By Larry O’Hanlon

Dr. Frankenstein aside, science doesn’t intend to be spooky. Sometimes it just turn out that way. Scientific endeavors have revealed some eerie places and a symphony of scary sounds from all over the planet — everything from bellowing sand dunes and whistling lightning, to groaning ice shelves of Antarctica. We got them here in our 2019 Halloween playlist. 


Lightning whistlers

Lightning creates not only visible light, but radio emissions as well. These get propagated and distorted in creepy ways by the Earth’s magnetosphere. This first is what are called proton whistlers (source: U. Iowa). 


Here are whistlers recorded at dawn at Great Basin National Park on Sept 16, 1994. The VLF receiver was connected to a 150-meter (500-foot) longwire antenna strung at about 2-4 meters (6-15 feet) above the ground amongst the aspen and fir trees. These whistlers were probably created by thunderstorms hammering Dallas, Texas and eastern Nebraska. Additional information can be found on Stephen P. McGreevy’s website


More lightning whistlers. Source: http://www.astrosurf.com/luxorion/Radio/ligthnings-tweeks.mp3


Ice shelves, dunes and abandoned stations

Winds blowing across snow dunes on Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf cause the massive ice slab’s surface to vibrate, producing a near-constant drumroll of seismic “tones” scientists could potentially use to monitor changes in the ice shelf from afar, according to new research. The ice shelf’s “song” is too low in frequency to be heard by human ears, but it has been made audible here by geophysicist and mathematician Julien Chaput, who sped up a 2015 recording of the ice shelf’s vibrations about 1,200 times.



Haunted in every way except for any actual ghosts, here is a video excerpt of the Third Pod from the Sun podcast with University of Colorado Boulder glaciologist Mike MacFerrin. He takes us on a tour of the abandoned DYE-2 station, one of two large radar stations in south Greenland that were part of the U.S.’s DEW line during the Cold War. 


Finally, these two sand dunes “sing” when sand rolls down their sides. But their songs are quite different. Sand dunes only sing in a few areas across the globe, and their songs – always a low, droning sound — have been an object of curiosity for centuries. Marco Polo encountered their haunting drone during his travels and Charles Darwin, in his book “The Voyage of the Beagle,” wrote of testimonials from Chileans about the sound of a sandy hill they called the “bellower.”


Larry O’Hanlon is a freelance science writer and editor in New Mexico. He manages the AGU blogosphere.