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Utah News

Utah geologists translate the vibrations of rock landforms into audible tones

Red rock towers against a blue sky with some patches of grass in the foreground.
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Utah's red rock towers are vibrating with seismic energy, wind, and even human activity.

https://geohazards.earth.utah.edu/images/towers/Eagle_50X.mp3

These are the vibrations of Eagle Plume Tower, a rock landform in Southeastern Utah.

While the tower vibrates at frequencies too low for human hearing, Jeff Moore, Associate Professor of Geology and Geophysics at University of Utah, has translated data from Eagle Plume and other geological structures into a range detectable by the human ear.

The data are from a study characterizing the natural vibrations of Utah’s geologic features. Riley Finnegan, the study’s lead author and a graduate student at U of U, said vibrations have a number of sources.

“So there's like always energy causing literally everything around you to constantly be vibrating because there's like, thermal energy or kinetic energy— but with rock landforms wind is a big one. And then there's always seismic activity within the earth,” Finnegan said.

The goal of Finnegan’s research is to help monitor the structural integrity of arches, towers, and other rock landforms in Utah by modeling the frequencies at which they move. Using seismometers to measure the movement of each tower, Finnegan, Moore, and their collaborators observed patterns in the structures’ movements.

“And so, by doing this, this translation into like a realm of our senses, it just, it provides, like a new way to experiences these objects.”

Moore said each structure has its own unique vibrational fingerprint, which can be translated into a collection of tones. Some of Utah’s most iconic arches produce a dull hum, while more modest structures produce almost musical sounds.

You can listen to more of their rock music at https://geohazards.earth.utah.edu/media.html.