The Earth is a noisy place
March 26, 2012 - Edwin Tanji
An Associated Press story in The Maui News on March 22 recounted a report of a mystery noise disturbing residents of Clintonville, a small town in Wisconsin, booming loudly enough to rattle homes.
It isn't much of a mystery.
An analysis last year by U.S. Geological Survey scientist David Hill offered a list of potential causes, including small earthquakes that might not register as earthquakes on seismic monitors. Hill's report was posted by the Seismological Society of America in its September/October 2011 journal, Seismological Research Letters.
Science writer Kate Ravilious built on Hill's explanation of the phenomena of mysterious booms in the Feb. 18 edition of New Scientist.
ABC News – which reported on the fears of disturbed Clintonville residents from the noises that were first heard on March 19 – had a followup story in a March 25 broadcast citing a U.S. Geological Survey report of a magnitude 1.5 earthquake occurring 3.1 miles below the town at just after midnight on March 20. While the national news operation interviewed a University of Wisconsin geologist who hadn't been able to explain the cause of the explosive sounds, ABC apparently couldn't locate Hill's report.
That report notes that loud booms can result from “rock bursts,” which Hill describes as “a class of small, near-surface earthquakes.”
According to Ravilious, similar mystery noises described as large booming sounds have been reported in communities around the world for centuries. A town in Connecticut, Moodus, derived its name from a Native American description, “Machimoodus” or “place of bad noises,” because of mystery booms.
In his essay, Hill cited a case in which he heard loud noises from small quakes, but did not feel any shaking.
“Based on personal experience, it seems that even smaller earthquakes are capable of producing audible sounds with no perceptible shaking. While on the flank of Mammoth Mountain with Bill Ellsworth one day during the 1989 Mammoth Mountain earthquake swarm, we both heard muffled booming sounds but felt no shaking,” he said. “On checking, we found that the earthquakes during that period were shallow (less than 4 km deep) with magnitudes M< 2.0.”
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The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program also notes the potential for small earthquakes to generate loud booming noises in an informational essay, “Earthquake booms, Seneca guns and other sounds.”
Mar 25, 2011
The Barisal booms sound like cannons and are only heard during heavy rains in the Ganges Delta. In the United States there is a similar phenomenon in New York called the Lake Guns of Seneca. All of these cases continue ...
“Most 'booms' that people hear or experience are actually some type of cultural noise, such as some type of explosion, a large vehicle going by, or sometimes a sonic boom, but there have been many reports of 'booms' that cannot be explained by man-made sources,” the USGS said. “No one knows for sure, but scientists speculate that these 'booms' are probably small shallow earthquakes that are too small to be recorded, but large enough to be felt by people nearby.”
Ravilious' report builds on the USGS/Hill hypothesis with a diagram noting how a fault plane between solid bedrock and softer overlayers can transfer the sound of an earthquake to the surface. Such transfers are unlikely in Hawaii, where the bedrock tends to be fractured layers of old volcanic flows or cinders, covered by relatively shallow layers of soil composed of decayed rocks and organic materials. But areas where mystery booms are being reported, including Wisconsin, the East Coast and the Carolinas, the underlying bedrock is granite overlaid with sedimentary soils desposited by river flows and glaciation.
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People around the world have reported hearing strange sounds from the skies over the past month. Sometimes they describe it as a hum or low rumble; other times it's a whine, thump, or even a melody. Often the sounds have ...
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I've had vivid nightmares ever since I posted the very eerie and“strange sounds” that has Missoula talking and looking toward the sky. Awful, awful nightmares. My wife woke me from a dream last night where she says I was ...
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Earthquakes in granite also can be more jarring than similar tremors in areas prone to quakes, as was experienced in the Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake in Virginia. Smaller than many quakes occurring along the West Coast, the magnitude 5.8 East Coast quake caused widespread shaking felt across four states and seriously damaged buildings in Washington D.C. including the Washington Monument. The relative severity of the M-5.8 quake was blamed on the fact that occurred in granite bedrock that broadcast the shaking more effectively.
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Source: Maui News