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Listening to Volcanoes

September 14, 2006

A new technique to analyze data from volcanoes may be music to scientists’ ears.


The music of volcanoes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[sonified Mt. Etna seismogram]

If a volcano could play piano, this is what it would sound like. Physicist Domenico Vicinanza of CERN in Switzerland created the music by converting a seismogram from Mount Etna into a musical score.

If the volcano is quiet, the melody of the piano is confined in the middle part of the piano. As soon as the volcano is becoming louder and louder, the melody starts to scatter up and down, reaching higher and lower notes.

So how will this help? Vicinanza says people are often better at picking out patterns by ear than by eye, so this technique could help scientists find patterns in the volcanic melodies that would help them predict eruptions.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.