Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 111: May-Jun 1997

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Why Some Sands Sing, Squeak, and Boom

Singing sands and booming dunes have aroused the curiosity of explorers and beachgoers for over a century. Sand Mountain, in Nevada, is noted for its energetic thunderings. (SF#47/214) Manchester, Massachusetts, has its "singing beach." (ESP14 in Anomalies in Geology) But, common as these "sonorous" sands are, the exact mechanism of sound production remains a mystery.

D.E Goldsack and colleagues, at Laurentian University, Canada, have reported some advances in our understanding of this classical anomaly.

  1. The group discovered that they could make ordinary sand musical by repeated grinding, polishing, and removal of fines. Given sufficient processing, ordinary sand that is merely "noisy" when shaken can be made to "sing."
  2. Singing sand has a unique infrared signature: a broad band stretching from 3,700 to 2,800 cm-1 . This is probably due to clusters of water molecules in an amorphous silica layer on the surfaces of the sand grains.
  3. Taking a clue from the infrared spectrum, Goldsack et al shook commercially available silica gel in a bottle and heard the familiar tones of singing sand!

Their conclusion is that for sand to sing the particles must be coated with naturally (or artificially) created silica gel.

(Goldsack, Douglas E., et al; "Natural and Artificial 'Singing' Sands," Nature, 386:29, 1997. Also: Cohen, Philip; "Desert Dunes Sing Silica's Song," New Scientist, p. 17, March 8, 1997.)

Comment. The fundamental mystery survives. Goldsack admits no insights as to exactly how muscial sands find their "voices."

The subject of musical sand is explored in considerable depth at ESP14 in Anomalies in Geology. Ordering information here.

Location of musical sands and dunes Locations of the more prominent musical sands and booming dunes. (Adapted from: Geological Society of America, Bulletin, 87:483, 1976).

From Science Frontiers #111, MAY-JUN 1997. 1997-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987