Infrasound is sound with a frequency too low to be heard by the human ear. The study of such sound waves is sometimes referred to as infrasonics, covering sounds beneath the lowest limits of human hearing (20 hertz) down to 0.001 hertz. This frequency range is utilized by seismographs for monitoring earthquakes. Infrasound is characterized by an ability to cover long distances and get around obstacles with little dissipation.

About infrasound

Possibly, the first observation of naturally occurring infrasound was in the aftermath of the Krakatoa eruption in 1883, when concussive acoustic waves circled the globe seven times or more and were recorded on barometers worldwide. Infrasound was also used by Allied forces in World War I to locate artillery; the frequency of the muzzle blast from firing was noticeably different than that produced by the explosion, allowing the two sources to be discriminated.

One of the pioneers in infrasonic research was French scientist Vladimir Gavreau, born in Russia as Vladimir Gavronsky. [ [ Chapter 8 "Deadly Sounds" — Dr. Vladimir Gavreau "Lost Science" by Gerry Vassilatos ISBN 0-932813-75-5 © 1999 SIGNALS ] ] His interest in infrasonic waves first came about in his lab during the 1960s, when he and his lab assistants experienced pain in the ear drums and shaking lab equipment, but no audible sound was picked up on his microphones. He concluded it was infrasound and soon got to work preparing tests in the labs. One of his experiments was an infrasonic whistle. [*Gavreau V., Infra Sons: Générateurs, Détecteurs, Propriétés physiques, Effets biologiques, in: Acustica, Vol .17, No. 1 (1966), p.1-10] [Gavreau V.,infrasound,in: science journal 4(1) 1968,S.33] [Gavreau V., "Sons graves intenses et infrasons" in: Scientific Progres – la Nature (Sept. 1968) p. 336-344]

Infrasound sometimes results naturally from severe weather, surf,cite journal
author = Garces, M.
coauthors = Hetzer C., Merrifield M., Willis M. and Aucan J.
year = 2003
title = Observations of surf infrasound in Hawai’i
url =
accessdate = 2007-12-15
quote = Comparison of ocean buoy measurements with infrasonic array data collected during the epic winter of 2002–2003 shows a clear relationship between breaking ocean wave height and infrasonic signal levels.
] lee waves, avalanches, earthquakes, volcanoes, bolides,cite journal
author = Garces, M.
coauthors = Willis, M.
year = 2006
title = Modeling and Characterization of Microbarom Signals in the Pacific
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-24
quote = Naturally occurring sources of infrasound include (but are not limited to) severe weather, volcanoes, bolides, earthquakes, surf, mountain waves, and, the focus of this research, nonlinear ocean wave interactions.
waterfalls, calving of icebergs, aurora, lightning and sprites.cite web |url= | author = Haak, Hein |title=Probing the Atmosphere with Infrasound : Infrasound as a tool | date= 2006-09-01 |accessdate=2007-11-24 | publisher = Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization|format= pdf |work= CTBT: Synergies with Science, 1996-2006 and Beyond ]
Nonlinear ocean wave interactions in ocean storms produce pervasive infrasound around 0.2 hertz, known as microbaroms.cite web |url= |title=Microbaroms |accessdate=2007-11-22 |publisher = University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute, Infrasound Research Group|work= Infrasonic Signals|quote = The ubiquitous five second period infrasonic signals called “microbaroms”, which are generated by standing sea waves in marine storms, are the cause of the low-level natural-infrasound background in the passband from 0.02 to 10 Hz.] Infrasound can also be generated by man-made processes such as sonic booms and explosions (both chemical and nuclear), by machinery such as diesel engines and wind turbines and by specially designed mechanical transducers (industrial vibration tables) and large-scale subwoofer loudspeakers.cite book |author= |title=Signal and Image Processing for Remote Sensing |publisher=CRC |location=Boca Raton |year= 2007 |pages= p. 33|isbn=0-8493-5091-3 |oclc= |doi=] The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization uses infrasound as one of its monitoring technologies (along with seismic, hydroacoustic, and atmospheric radionuclide monitoring).

Whales, elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceros, giraffes, okapi, and alligators are known to use infrasound to communicate over distances—up to hundreds of miles in the case of whales. It has also been suggested that migrating birds use naturally generated infrasound, from sources such as turbulent airflow over mountain ranges, as a navigational aid. [ [ Goddard Space Flight Center: ] link not found] Elephants, in particular, produce infrasound waves that travel through solid ground and are sensed by other herds using their feet (although they may be separated by hundreds of kilometres).

Scientists accidentally discovered that the spinning core or vortex of a tornado creates infrasonic waves. When the vortices are large, the frequencies are lower; smaller vortices have higher, though still beneath human hearing, frequencies. These infrasonic sound waves can be detected for up to 160 km (100 miles) away and can help provide early warning of tornadoes.

A number of American universities have active research programs in infrasound, including the University of Mississippi, Southern Methodist University, the University of California at San Diego, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Animal reactions to infrasound

Concerning behavioral patterns of animals and the infrasonic effects of natural disasters, animals have been known to perceive the infrasonic waves carried through the earth from such natural disasters and can use these as an early warning. A recent example of this is the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Animals were reported to flee the area long before the actual tsunami hit the shores of Asia. [ [ How did animals survive the tsunami? - By Christine Kenneally - Slate Magazine:Posted Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004, at 5:47 PM ET ] ] It is not known for sure if this is the exact reason, as some have suggested that it was the influence of electromagnetic waves, and not of infrasonic waves, that prompted these animals to flee. [ [ Nature . Can Animals Predict Disaster? - PBS: posted November 2005.] ] Elephants have been known to hear infrasound from two and a half miles away.

Human reactions to infrasound

Infrasound has been known to cause feelings of awe or fear in humans. [ [ John D. Cody. "Infrasound"] Borderland Science Research Foundation] Verify credibility|date=October 2008 Since it is not consciously perceived, it can make people feel vaguely that supernatural events are taking place.

Some film soundtracks make use of infrasound to produce unease or disorientation in the audience. "Irréversible" is one such movie.

In music, Brian "Lustmord" Williams is known to utilize infrasound to create these same feelings.

"Infrasonic" 17 Hz tone experiment

On May 31, 2003, a team of UK researchers held a mass experiment where they exposed some 700 people to music laced with soft 17 Hz sine waves played at a level described as "near the edge of hearing", produced by an extra-long stroke sub-woofer mounted two-thirds of the way from the end of a seven-meter-long plastic sewer pipe. The experimental concert (entitled "Infrasonic") took place in the Purcell Room over the course of two performances, each consisting of four musical pieces. Two of the pieces in each concert had 17 Hz tones played underneath. In the second concert, the pieces that were to carry a 17 Hz undertone were swapped so that test results would not focus on any specific musical piece. The participants were not told which pieces included the low-level 17 Hz near-infrasonic tone. The presence of the tone resulted in a significant number (22%) of respondents reporting anxiety, uneasiness, extreme sorrow, nervous feelings of revulsion or fear, chills down the spine and feelings of pressure on the chest. [ [ "Infrasonic"] concert, Purcell Room, London, 31 May, 2003, sponsored by the "sciart Consortium" with additional support by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL)] [ [ "Sounds like terror in the air" Sydney Morning Herald, September 9 2003.] ] In presenting the evidence to the BA, the scientist responsible said, "These results suggest that low frequency sound can cause people to have unusual experiences even though they cannot consciously detect infrasound. Some scientists have suggested that this level of sound may be present at some allegedly haunted sites and so cause people to have odd sensations that they attribute to a ghost—our findings support these ideas."

"The Ghost in the Machine"

Research by the late Vic Tandy, a lecturer at Coventry University, suggested that the frequency 19 hertz was responsible for many ghost sightings. He was working late one night alone in a supposedly haunted laboratory at Warwick, when he felt very anxious and could detect a grey blob out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to face it, there was nothing.

The following day, he was working on his fencing foil, with the handle held in a vice. Although there was nothing touching it, it started to vibrate wildly. Further investigation led him to discover that the extraction fan was emitting a frequency of 18.98 Hz, very close to the resonant frequency of the eye (given as 18 Hz in NASA Technical Report 19770013810). This was why he saw a ghostly figure—it was an optical illusion caused by his eyeballs resonating. The room was exactly half a wavelength in length, and the desk was in the centre, thus causing a standing wave which was detected by the foil. [ [ infrasound ] ]

Tandy investigated this phenomenon further and wrote a paper entitled "The Ghost in the Machine". He carried out a number of investigations at various sites believed to be haunted, including the basement of the Tourist Information Bureau next to Coventry Cathedral [ [,4273,4038891,00.html Guardian Unlimited | Archive Search ] ] and Edinburgh Castle. [ [ Who ya gonna call? Vic Tandy! - Coventry Telegraph ] ] [ [ Internet Archive Wayback Machine. 2007 version of Vic Tandy's Ghost Experiment webpage] ]

ee also

*Brown note


* "infrasound". "Collins English Dictionary", 2000. Retrieved 25 October 2005, from xreferplus.
* Gundersen, P. Erik. "The Handy Physics Answer Book". Visible Ink Press, 2003.
* Chedd, Graham. "Sound; From Communications to Noise Pollution". Doubleday & Company Inc, 1970.
* O'Keefe, Ciaran, and Sarah Angliss. "The Subjective Effects of Infrasound in a Live Concert Setting". "CIM04: Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology". Graz, Germany: Graz UP, 2004. 132-3.
* "Discovery's Biggest Shows aired" at 8:00 pm (Indian Standard Time) on The Discovery Channel, India on Sunday, 7 October 2007

External links

* [ Inframatics, an international infrasound monitoring organization]
* [ National Center for Physical Acoustics]
* [ Infrasound Laboratory, University of Hawaii]
* [ Southern Methodist University infrasound studies]
* [ NOAA Infrasonics Program]
* [ US Army Space and Missile Defense Command Monitoring Research Program]
* [ Laboratory for Atmospheric Acoustics, University of California, San Diego]
* [ Los Alamos Infrasound Monitoring Laboratory]
* [ University of Alaska Infrasonics Page]
* [ Infrasound: Air Seismology] - from
* [ Infrasonic and Acoustic-Gravity Waves Generated by the Mount Pinatubo Eruption of June 15, 1991] , Makoto Tahira, Masahiro Nomura, Yosihiro Sawada and Kosuke Kamo
* [ How did animals survive the tsunami?]
* [ Can animals predict disaster?]
* [ "The Acoustics of War", article on infrasound in "Cabinet" magazine, issue 5]

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