Sonic Wonders of the Natural World

In this piece, we take a look at some unique sonic wonders in naturally occurring formations, geological conditions, or animals and birds.

The natural world is full of surprises. Whether we’re still discovering new species of frogs in Malaysia’s Borneo rainforest, or we’re stumbling upon million-year-old caverns shut off from the rest of the world, brewing and self-sustaining ecosystems  – the earth is constantly at work. It’s alive, growing and evolving constantly! Here are some remarkable sonic wonders for the inquisitive mind. Let’s go! 

Singing Sands of Kelso Dunes, California 

In the arid Californian desert in San Bernardino, the Kelso Dunes have a feature unique to most sand patches across the world. Singing sands, also referred to as Whistling Sands or Barking Sands in the Mojave Desert, is a peculiar site for something so stunning. When an avalanche is created with the sand, or certain patterns are made, the sand tends to give out a low drone sound that can be heard around the dunes. These aeolian patches are the earth’s natural tubas, dancing to the thump of the wind! There is yet to be an explanation for how this phenomenon occurs.

It is speculated that this phenomenon could have to do with the sand grains being circular, between 0.1 – 0.5mm in diameter, containing silica, and a proportionate amount of heat. The common recorded frequency of the drone sound emitted is around 450 Hz. Other places in the world where these sands can be heard are the Booming Dunes in the Namib Desert, Africa, near Mesaieed in Qatar, Barmer in India, and more. Here’s a video from Morocco explaining how these dunes are played :


Singing Bearded Seals of the Arctic

Way up in the Arctic, in the desolate snow-capped archipelago of Svalbard, and parts of Alaska, the trilling of subaquatic bearded seals will most-definitely catch your attention! People describe this complex vocalization from these seals as like a sci-fi movie effect, a UFO hovering, or an eerie soundtrack. This spiraling glissando  created underwater last for about a whole minute, and are used to indicate their mating positions, or even marking territories. The unique adaptation in the bearded seal is their elastic airway that inflate during their spiraling call, resonating and radiating this sound. It still isn’t clear what turns it into the sound exactly, though. According to an article in Smithsonian, acoustic engineer Trevor Cox said the calls were intended to attract the attention of females, and scientists believe that evolutionary pressures push male seals to make more and more outlandish sounds, resulting in the weird calls like the one below.

This video was recorded by marine biologist Holley Moraco using a hydrophone.


Gong Rocks of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

These boulders seem like they’ve been used as primitive gongs, or even xylophones for a long time! The rocks in the Moru Kopjes region of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, East Africa, are known for the gong sound they make. The dolerite rocks are the result of ancient volcanic activity in the area, and according to African Tourer, the rocks were used as a mean of communication between the Masai people who used to inhabit the region. Similar rocks have been found in different regions of Africa, even among Mongolians and Chinese settlements, and territories. Here’s what the gong rocks sound like when struck by smaller stones:


The Native Australian Lyrebird

Nature never fails to amaze us! Among the thousands of animals that we know of, the Australian Lyrebird has a unique ability to mimic a multitude of natural and artificial sounds from their environment. All with great projection, like a seasoned singer. Along with their own sound, they have been recorded mimicking other birds including the hilarious Laughing Kookaburra, animals like koalas and dingoes, and human sounds such as chainsaws, fire alarms, camera shutters, tree cutting, and more. They are ground-dwelling creatures, and are among Australia’s best-known native birds. Watch this amazing video from BBC Earth to see the sounds they can make!


Bubbling Mud Pots in Hverir, Namafjall, northern Iceland

Hverir has been identified as a geothermal hotspot for its bubbling puddles of mud and fumaroles steaming with sulfuric gas. The mud pots look like a cauldron cooking up a part of the earth and produce these shrill steam sounds from hell! While it could sound like a gushing waterfall, the bubbling and steaming sounds create a unique sonic landscape found in very few spots on the earth. The bluish grey color of the pits in those environs look like a dystopian era after a massive war fallout. Here’s what it sounds like.


You will find many more of these – such as the crackling of ice, and water trickling at glacier lagoons in Iceland, the echoes and reverberations in caves, valleys, and canyons, the song of whales and dolphins in the aquatic expanse. A noteworthy mention is this book by acoustic engineer Trevor Cox called The Sound Book: The Sonic Wonders of The World where he explains these natural wonders with the help of archaeology, neuroscience, biology and design. 


This article is sourced with the help of information from Smithsonian Mag and CNN Travel

Featured image of Kelso Dunes via Canva

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