November 6, 2012

Sounds from the depths

SCIENTISTS WORKING FOR the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are wondering what’s causing some strange sounds in the depths of the ocean. Their vast array of underwater hydrophones has picked up some mysterious noises for which they have no explanation.

One of the noises, nicknamed “Upsweep,” is like the continuous scratch of tree branches against your bedroom window. It has been noted seasonally since 1991, peaking in spring and fall, and NOAA’s best brains think it might have something to do with undersea volcanic activity, but they can’t be sure.

Another sound recorded in July 1997, called “The Whistle,” sounds like a kettle of boiling water. Only one hydrophone picked it up, so it wasn’t possible to say where the noise was coming from, and to this day the scientists are scratching their heads about what caused it.

But perhaps the most mysterious noise of all is “The Bloop.” In 1997, NOAA’s hydrophones picked one of the loudest underwater sounds ever recorded off the southern coast of South America. “The Bloop,” which sounds just like it name, was recorded by two hydrophones nearly 3,000 miles apart.  It apparently mimics animal sounds in some way, but it’s far too loud to have been made by any sea creatures so far known to man.

Aside from the scientific mystery involved here, I am fascinated by the fact that the world’s oceans, even in the remotest parts of the Antarctic, are crisscrossed with listening devices.  I know that nations like to listen out for other nation’s submarines and warships, but I hadn’t properly realized that agencies such as NOAA have their own arrays of hydrophones, all listening for interesting underwater noises.

I wonder if NOAA has any recordings of whales screaming in pain as giant squid rip hunks of flesh off them. I wonder, too, if yachtsmen have to be careful what they say when they’re wandering over the oceans.  If you curse and swear when you drop your last shackle overboard, are you likely to receive a terse note from NOAA telling you to clean up your act?

And I also wonder about the ethics of placing listening devices on the bottom of the High Seas, which are supposed to be neutral territory and free for every nation to use for peaceful trade.

Where I live, the city council even threw out a proposal to install cameras on traffic lights to catch people running red lights.  

There is something quite eerie and offensive about the possibility of recording the noises of people sailing across oceans , especially when you consider that what we are allowed to know about this whole business is probably nothing compared with what we don’t know.

Today’s Thought
 He who has command of the sea has command of everything.
— Themistocles

“ What's pink and fluffy?”
 “Pink fluff.”

“Oh, you heard it already. Okay then, what's blue and fluffy?”

“Pink fluff holding its breath.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


KevinH said...

" The council threw out a proposal to install cameras to catch people running red lights." ! ? I wanna live in a country like that.! The government and councils of the country I live in, are using every trick imaginable to secure additional revenue from the (few)tax paying citizens to support the lazy/unemployable/fertile/incompetant/and even the politicians.! If you would like to live where it's hot and incredibly humid, again, maybe we could swop places.!

Anonymous said...

Nice to see the Bellingham City Council has some ethics. In Seattle area its a veritable police state of red light cameras, especially in Lynnwood.