Out at the beach it’s easy to get lulled into a meditative state with the rhythm of the ocean, but in some parts of the world the sand has its own sound. The phenomenon known as “singing sands,” or sometimes “booming sands,” is where the dunes create a low, eerie noise.
Reasons for the “singing” were long mysterious aside from knowing it was somehow generated by the reverberating tumble of grains of sand, possibly involving a sweeping wind, and was heard from the Kelso Dunes in California to the desert of Namibia. In 2012, some biophysicists examined dunes in Morocco and Orman and discovered that the size of the sand grains was integral to the singing. According to National Geographic’s report on the research, in Morocco where the grains were all about the same diameter the avalanches produced a continuous note, but in Orman where they were widely different it was more cacophonous. Here’s a breakdown:
Exact specifics of what make a singing sand dune are still vague. Below are a few of our favorites where you can have this strange sonorous experience, where the sand hills seem to come alive with their own moody music. NOVA states that there are around 30 such places around the world, so listen close next time you’re at the dunes and just maybe with the right sand grain size, humidity, and motion you’ll hear them sing.
BOOMING DUNES OF BADAIN JARAN DESERT
Droning like a low-flying plane, the world’s tallest stationary dunes in Mongolia’s Badain Jaran Desert make for an exceptionally otherworldly place. Dunes can reach over 1,600 feet tall, acting as some of the Earth’s biggest bass instruments.
photograph by Rick Cooper
Sand Mountain in Nevada was once home to an ancient lake; what remains is a dune out in an isolated terrain. The sand accumulated in the basin seems to respond with a lonely moan as the wind blows over the dune.
SINGING SAND DUNES OF LIWA
United Arab Emirates
photograph by stillepsilon/Flickr
The tessellated pattern of the sands of the dunes in the Empty Quarter of the United Arab Emirates along with their roaring noise can turn the area into a labyrinth. Guides are extremely recommended. If you want to be sure to hear the singing of the dunes, you can perform this seemingly exhausting and possibly rash-inducing method:
photograph by zackofalltrades
Over in Death Valley, 680 feet above the ground, are California’s tallest sand dunes. The Eureka Dunes also have some of the planet’s most optimal singing sands conditions, where you’re most likely to be surrounded by the low humming on any given visit to the remote landscape. National Geographic even made a visit, although found the sandy wind that contributes to the singing phenomenon can also be unpleasant to the eyes:
Interested in more sound exploration? Here’s our article on musical roads.