As kids we were told that we could hear the ocean if we put a seashell up to our ear. If we brought the seashell home, we in turn brought the ocean home with us too. The fact is, “the voice of the sea” has always been present anywhere in the world without the seashell, whether you are in Detroit, Moscow, or “down the shore”. There’s a catch though; this ocean sound is far below the frequencies that we can hear, a signal otherwise known as infrasound. Formally called microbaroms, the “voice of the sea” is generated by the interaction of ocean surface waves. Infrasound on this scale has the ability to travel extraordinary distances, meaning it can be measured anywhere on the planet and is sometimes used to infer wind speeds of marine storms.
Infrasound, like microbaroms, is also generated by volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Researchers are currently developing prediction methods for all these natural disasters based on this acoustical phenomenon. So if you want to listen to the true “voice of the sea”, drop the seashell and become an acoustician.
If becoming an acoustician to listen to the “voice of the sea” seems a little impractical, you can try the next best thing; all it requires is a quick trip to the city of Zadar in Croatia. In 2005, the Sea Organ was introduced to the public at the edge of the Adriatic Sea.
When sea waves drive air into the 35 pipes incorporated within the carved white stone platform, musical chords are played. This combination of acoustics and architecture is so unique that it won the 2006 European Prize for Urban Public Space.
If you have seen some of the many super-hero movies that have graced the summer screen, you may know of The Stark Sonic Cannon, developed in the Marvel Universe. It has been used to try to defeat the Hulk and is integrated into the Iron Man suit. The truth is that sonic weapons like these exist beyond the movies, in our universe. The police use steerable sonic cannons to incapacitate suspected criminals as well as to control rowdy crowds. This nonlethal sonic arsenal can cause severe pain and even destroy eardrums. A long range acoustic device, known as the LRAD, has been used by commercial cruise liners to steer away pirates. And if you think all you need to quell this acoustic artillery are some super duty earmuffs, think again; this high energy sound passes right through and has been shown to cause lung and intestinal damage as well as the ability to blur vision by vibrating our eyeballs. Maybe this sonic weaponry was best left on the big screen.
This does it for another edition of Let’s Get Weird. We hope you enjoy the rest of the summer. Whether you are far from the ocean, on a cruise, or happen to drop by Zadar in Croatia, remember that you can’t escape the weird world of acoustics.