Singing Sand Dunes

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Reports of singing sand dunes date at least as far back as 800 C.E. Strange as it sounds, about forty sites around the world have been associated with this phenomenon, in which avalanches of sand grains on the outer surface of the dune cause a deep, booming hum for up to several minutes. As you can hear in the video above, the sound of the dune is somewhat like a propeller-driven airplane. A leading explanation for this behavior is that it results not from the size or shape of the sand grains but from the structure of the underlying dune.

Measurements show that the booming sand dunes contain a hard packed layer of sand 1-2 meters below the surface. When sand at the surface is disturbed by the wind or sliding researchers, it creates vibrations. Those disturbances have trouble crossing into the air or into the harder layers below. Instead they resonate in the upper surface of the sand, which acts as a waveguide, reflecting and enhancing the sound, just as the body of a violin resonates to enhance the vibration of its strings. For more, check out this video from Caltech or the research paper linked below. (Video credit: N. Vriend; research credit: M. Hunt and N. Vriend, pdf)

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