The Sound of Caves

Listening to the Sound of Silence

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The Sound of Caves

Listening to the Sound of Silence
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EXPLORING SILENT PLACES

The Sound of Caves project proposes to explore the most silent places on Earth, pioneering an entirely new field of science.

Two Rolex Laureates are pioneering speleo-acoustics, an entirely new field of science. Italian scientist and speleologist Francesco Sauro and French bioacoustics expert Michel André will measure sound in caves of the tepuis, the table-top mountains of South America. The scientists will place a network of highly sensitive acoustic “ears” in the caves. It is an “unparalleled opportunity for acoustic science. It will be like listening to a lost world, a world without humans or man-made sound and will offer a new perspective on cave biology,” André explains.*

EXPLORING SILENT PLACES

The Sound of Caves project proposes to explore the most silent places on Earth, pioneering an entirely new field of science.

Two Rolex Laureates are pioneering speleo-acoustics, an entirely new field of science. Italian scientist and speleologist Francesco Sauro and French bioacoustics expert Michel André will measure sound in caves of the tepuis, the table-top mountains of South America. The scientists will place a network of highly sensitive acoustic “ears” in the caves. It is an “unparalleled opportunity for acoustic science. It will be like listening to a lost world, a world without humans or man-made sound and will offer a new perspective on cave biology,” André explains.*


Tepui: house of gods (native language)
deepest quartzite cave in the world: Abismo Guy Collet -671m
TWO SORTS OF CAVES

“There are two sorts of caves,” Sauro explains. “Active caves, which are in the process of forming or changing, and so-called fossil caves, which have remained in a stable state, without outside disturbance, maybe for millions of years. In active caves, there are faint sounds – running or dripping water, airflow, the movement of the rocks themselves, the activity of living creatures that inhabit this underworld. In fossil caves, there may exist the deepest silence it is possible to find on the Earth. “By listening to both, we hope to learn new things about how this secret part of our world forms and functions,” he says. André’s groundbreaking work in marine acoustics helped to reveal that, far from being the “silent deep”, the oceans are in fact a tumult of sound: the calls of whales and songs of fish, the noise of storms, the clicking of shrimp, the rumble of earthquakes and undersea volcanoes, and now, the omnipresent thunder of humanity, in ship engines, explosions, sonar and seabed construction. In 2010, he established LIDO (Listen to the Deep Oceans), a network of international hydrophone observatories that monitors and records underwater sounds around the planet – human, animal and geological. “Being able to listen to some of the most silent places on the planet – the deep caves of the tepuis which Francesco is exploring – constitutes an unparalleled opportunity for acoustic science,” André says.

TWO SORTS OF CAVES

“There are two sorts of caves,” Sauro explains. “Active caves, which are in the process of forming or changing, and so-called fossil caves, which have remained in a stable state, without outside disturbance, maybe for millions of years. In active caves, there are faint sounds – running or dripping water, airflow, the movement of the rocks themselves, the activity of living creatures that inhabit this underworld. In fossil caves, there may exist the deepest silence it is possible to find on the Earth. “By listening to both, we hope to learn new things about how this secret part of our world forms and functions,” he says. André’s groundbreaking work in marine acoustics helped to reveal that, far from being the “silent deep”, the oceans are in fact a tumult of sound: the calls of whales and songs of fish, the noise of storms, the clicking of shrimp, the rumble of earthquakes and undersea volcanoes, and now, the omnipresent thunder of humanity, in ship engines, explosions, sonar and seabed construction. In 2010, he established LIDO (Listen to the Deep Oceans), a network of international hydrophone observatories that monitors and records underwater sounds around the planet – human, animal and geological. “Being able to listen to some of the most silent places on the planet – the deep caves of the tepuis which Francesco is exploring – constitutes an unparalleled opportunity for acoustic science,” André says.


human, animal and geological

André’s groundbreaking work in marine acoustics helped to reveal that, far from being the “silent deep”, the oceans are in fact a tumult of sound: the calls of whales and songs of fish, the noise of storms, the clicking of shrimp, the rumble of earthquakes and undersea volcanoes, and now, the omnipresent thunder of humanity, in ship engines, explosions, sonar and seabed construction. In 2010, he established LIDO (Listen to the Deep Oceans), a network of international hydrophone observatories that monitors and records underwater sounds around the planet – human, animal and geological. “Being able to listen to some of the most silent places on the planet – the deep caves of the tepuis which Francesco is exploring – constitutes an unparalleled opportunity for acoustic science,” André says.

human, animal and geological

André’s groundbreaking work in marine acoustics helped to reveal that, far from being the “silent deep”, the oceans are in fact a tumult of sound: the calls of whales and songs of fish, the noise of storms, the clicking of shrimp, the rumble of earthquakes and undersea volcanoes, and now, the omnipresent thunder of humanity, in ship engines, explosions, sonar and seabed construction. In 2010, he established LIDO (Listen to the Deep Oceans), a network of international hydrophone observatories that monitors and records underwater sounds around the planet – human, animal and geological. “Being able to listen to some of the most silent places on the planet – the deep caves of the tepuis which Francesco is exploring – constitutes an unparalleled opportunity for acoustic science,” André says.


ANDRÉ & SAURO

The two scientist plan, over coming years, to place a network of highly sensitive acoustic ‘ears’ in the caverns of the tepuis to record whatever sounds are there to be detected, in a place so remote that human noise has not yet contaminated it. “It will be like listening to a lost world, a world without humans or man-made sound,” André explains. Until now, the main scientific role for acoustics in caves has been for the study of bats. Now André and Sauro plan to expand its role dramatically, to study water, rock movement, cryptobiology (the study of hidden life) and micro-climate within caves. All of these, they hope, can reveal much about how caves form, grow, change through time and interact with the human world. Listening to the flow of an underground river, the groaning of rock or the drip from a stalactite might sound tedious work, but from tiny changes in tone, volume and timing, scientists can deduce much about the natural workings of an active cave, André says. Sound offers a new way to receive warnings of sudden floods that may fill caves or affect rivers on the surface. Over time, even tiny drips can reveal subtle changes in climate and rainfall at the surface.

ANDRÉ & SAURO

The two scientist plan, over coming years, to place a network of highly sensitive acoustic ‘ears’ in the caverns of the tepuis to record whatever sounds are there to be detected, in a place so remote that human noise has not yet contaminated it. “It will be like listening to a lost world, a world without humans or man-made sound,” André explains. Until now, the main scientific role for acoustics in caves has been for the study of bats. Now André and Sauro plan to expand its role dramatically, to study water, rock movement, cryptobiology (the study of hidden life) and micro-climate within caves. All of these, they hope, can reveal much about how caves form, grow, change through time and interact with the human world. Listening to the flow of an underground river, the groaning of rock or the drip from a stalactite might sound tedious work, but from tiny changes in tone, volume and timing, scientists can deduce much about the natural workings of an active cave, André says. Sound offers a new way to receive warnings of sudden floods that may fill caves or affect rivers on the surface. Over time, even tiny drips can reveal subtle changes in climate and rainfall at the surface.


BATS

Apart from bats, cave life is generally thought of as silent – but in the pitch-dark, sound assumes a far greater importance than other sensory perceptions, the two researchers say. The chirping of insects, the grunting of blind fish and calls of cave-dwelling reptiles may reveal strange choruses hitherto unknown to the human ear. “The potential new applications for monitoring animal activities are absolutely promising... and open a completely new perspective on cave biology,” they say in an article they are preparing for publication.

BATS

Apart from bats, cave life is generally thought of as silent – but in the pitch-dark, sound assumes a far greater importance than other sensory perceptions, the two researchers say. The chirping of insects, the grunting of blind fish and calls of cave-dwelling reptiles may reveal strange choruses hitherto unknown to the human ear. “The potential new applications for monitoring animal activities are absolutely promising... and open a completely new perspective on cave biology,” they say in an article they are preparing for publication.


A HIGHLY SENSITIVE NETWORK

By spreading networks of instruments through the caves of the tepuis, the researchers hope to create a three-dimensional ‘symphony’ of the music of the deep Earth. In the same way that the calls of whales and choirs of fish have become familiar to humans through the use of hydrophones placed in the oceans, Sauro and André hope that speleo-acoustics will open a fresh chapter in Earth system observation and monitoring and teach us about a world we have barely begun to explore. * written by Julian Cribb

A HIGHLY SENSITIVE NETWORK

By spreading networks of instruments through the caves of the tepuis, the researchers hope to create a three-dimensional ‘symphony’ of the music of the deep Earth. In the same way that the calls of whales and choirs of fish have become familiar to humans through the use of hydrophones placed in the oceans, Sauro and André hope that speleo-acoustics will open a fresh chapter in Earth system observation and monitoring and teach us about a world we have barely begun to explore. * written by Julian Cribb


Tepui: house of gods (native language)
deepest quartzite cave in the world: Abismo Guy Collet -671m
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"The Sense of Silence Foundation is giving Nature a powerful voice that everyone can hear"
- Michel André -