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By recording and analyzing sounds that ripple below the threshold of human hearing, scientists have found innovative ways to measure complex natural phenomena. At the same time, the research has opened an ear on a world most people scarcely imagine.
A representative from the Geophysical Institute's Infrasound group presented reports in November on earthquake and auroral sounds during the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. They were among nearly 50 papers describing infrasounds produced by meteors, the space shuttle Columbia disaster and other jolts around the world.
"We're discovering things that people never saw before because of the tools we have now," said Fairbanks physicist John Olson, the group's principal scientific investigator. "These (sounds) are around us all the time. For instance, in Alaska, one of the biggest things we see day in, day out are the signals from marine storms. They're almost like a tone with a period of about five seconds."
It's all part of an infrasound renaissance made possible by modern computing power and an international effort to intercept the faint rumble of illegal nuclear blasts.