One Week on Earth (blog)
Sounds of the Subterranean

 

This blog retired in February 2015. Please visit Earthsound.com for a live audio stream of the seismic sounds of Earth!

Because I am now able to broadcast Earth sounds live — over a local micropower FM station and streaming on the internet — the relevance of the "One Week on Earth" podcast has faded.

I'm no longer adding new episodes but you can still go back and listen to old ones on the official OneWeekOnEarth.com blogsite. The earliest programs will remain archived here (see below) for awhile.

JTB 20150202

Past programs | About | FAQ

return to top About this project

The entire drama of human life — its ten thousand joys, its ten thousand sorrows — plays out on the outermost skin of our fragile planetary home. But just beneath that thin surface, beyond the reach of ordinary sensory perception, lies another world of extraordinary power and beauty, where an altogether different kind of natural drama unfolds, at scales of time and space entirely unfamiliar to surface dwellers.

"One Week on Earth" is an experimental podcast that invites you to listen in on this remarkable subterranean universe: the natural seismic sounds of planet Earth.

Over the next few months, I plan to post here a weekly five-and-a-half-minute program that contains an entire week of Earth sound, as recorded by an underground seismometer near my studio in coastal Maine in the northeastern United States.

To make the Earth's sounds audible, I have sped up these recordings by a factor of 1,800. As each second ticks by, you'll hear exactly one-half hour of real Earth time.

These recordings are not compositions or "interpretations" of the Earth's sounds. I have avoided heavy processing and manipulation of the recordings, so as to give the listener a faithful impression of the natural seismic and acoustic qualities of the planet. The echo and reverberation you hear is generated by the Earth itself, the result of seismic waves reflecting, refracting, and scattering thousands of miles through the planetary interior, in much the same way that a footstep echoes within the vast spaces of a gothic cathedral.

Every sound you hear in these recordings is significant. Every whoop, whoosh, pop, snap, or bang reflects the movement of the ground at the recording site from causes near and far: winds sweeping through the neighboring tall spruce and pine trees; surf on the nearby ocean shore; deep ocean storm waves on the continental shelf far offshore; earthquakes from around the world. Some of these events you will have read about in the week's news; others will have gone largely unnoticed.

 

return to top Past programs

 

May 4-10, 2014 (program #2014.18)

Nothing in the Universe occurs in isolation. Every action has consequences that ripple across space and time, unhindered by boundaries or borders, epochs or eons. Even in this quiet corner of rural Maine the firm granite bedrock rattles from events taking place in the farthest corners of the globe. This Earth connects us all.

In this edition of "One Week on Earth", we listen in once again to the sound of earthquakes around the world. Many were audible here this week, including those in the South Pacific archipelagos of Fiji (magnitude 6.6, audible in this recording at 00:19), the Solomon Islands (6.1, 02:33), and Tonga (5.8, 04:22); as well as in Thailand (6.0, 01:11), Mexico (6.4, 03:46), and Alaska (5.5, 05:16). If you listen closely (preferably with headphones), you'll hear many more as well.

The tectonic processes that give rise to these sounds have been active for at least a billion years, and we can expect them to continue for a few billion more. In other words, the Earth will sound like this long after we have vanished from the planet. By then only two physical traces of our existence will remain: a wispy shell of radio noise expanding outward into deep space at light speed, and a thin sliver of misplaced carbon buried deep in the planet's geologic record.

These are the sounds of deep time, the sounds that truly connect us all.



Also from this week: News | weather maps | weather summary | earthquakes worldwide
 

April 27-May 3, 2014 (program #2014.17)

What is noise? We often regard unfamiliar sounds with suspicion, as if they were invasive weeds in an imagined pristine sonic garden. But one person's weed is another's cherished wildflower; by getting to know all the species in the garden, we see the whole. And so it is with the sounds of Earth.

This week's edition of "One Week on Earth" spans a period when very few large earthquakes occurred around the world, allowing us to safely turn up the volume, shift our focus, and tune in to the ragged wildflowers of terrestrial background "noise".

Whenever the effects of booming earthquakes and powerful offshore storms recede, the sounds of the local, surface landscape move to the foreground, often revealing hints of human presence. In this recording, you'll hear a jittering crackle playing against the restless whoosh of the ubiquitous oceanic background ambience. It's almost as if a wire were loose somewhere, intermittently arcing static electricity. In fact, all the connections are intact; these are the movements of the house above the seismometer as its inhabitants move about, open and close windows, or come and go through the day. At night, these anthropogenic sounds fade away, giving way to the occasional crackle of nearby trees swaying in the wind, as they ever so slightly rock the surface of the ground nearby.

But the deep Earth is never dormant, even during a relatively quiet week. With a little practice you can train your ears to filter out the prickly surface sounds, and feel out the deeper roots, the sounds that are truly planetary in scale. Now and then you'll hear the faint low-pitched whoop of seismic waves that have traveled thousands of miles across the planet's surface, the tell-tale signature of the Earth's tectonic plates slipping and heaving under enormous pressures. At least a half-dozen of these earthquakes are faintly audible in this recording. A few others you can't miss. At 01:18, what sounds like a finger-snap or a pinch of sand thrown against a taut snare drum is, in fact, a rare earthquake in New Brunswick, Canada (3.4), only 260 km distant. At 03:26 body waves arrive from an earthquake (6.6) in the Loyalty Islands of the South Pacific, followed shortly by a long trail of surface waves. And at 05:07, you can hear the thump of an earthquake (5.5) in northern Alaska. The sounds of the distant deep are inescapable.

So which of these strange sounds do we call "noise"? Which is the cultivated bloom, and which the weed? The Earth, of course, makes no such distinctions. By listening closely and getting acquainted with the full variety of terrestrial sounds — the superficial and the deep — we get to know their habits and their quirks. Gradually we befriend them and can welcome them all into our spring garden.



Also from this week: News | weather maps | weather summary | earthquakes worldwide
 

April 20-26, 2014 (program #2014.16)

Something quite remarkable happened last week to those of you who live in North America. On Wednesday night the Earth slowly heaved you, your neighbors, the surrounding countryside — in fact, millions of square miles of the Earth's crust — up and down several times by a fraction of an inch. It did no damage and, unless you happen to live in western Canada or the Pacific Northwest of the United States, you probably didn't feel a thing. But for a few moments the Earth moved you.

Welcome to another edition of "One Week on Earth", which brings extraordinary moments like these within range of our senses for the first time. This week's program begins with the Earth bathed in the luscious oceanic background ambience — a wash of seismic vibrations that ebbs and flows gently through the week, as weather systems pass across northeastern North America and out into the Atlantic Ocean. Whispering through this veil of sound are a few distant and minor earthquakes. Midweek, the calm is broken by a large earthquake (6.6) in British Columbia, Canada, whose powerful surface vibrations wrap swiftly around the planet. Here in New England the ground sways slowly by almost an eighth of an inch as these waves sweep past. (If this fact seems remarkable in itself, consider that these sorts of occasional bursts of slow undulations are, in fact, commonplace everywhere on Earth. We are routinely heaved to and fro by the Earth as we go about our lives. But because our senses are simply not tuned in to this motion, we easily fall for the illusion of a stable and dependable Earth. The Earth is restless by nature.)

After those undulations pass, the ground quiets down once more, and the week continues much as it began, with the endless restless swirl of the Earth's background ambience. You'll enjoy this part best if you listen with headphones.



Also from this week: News | weather maps | weather summary | earthquakes worldwide
 

April 13-19, 2014 (program #2014.15)

Welcome to another edition of One Week on Earth. This week's program begins almost immediately with the distant "whoop" of an earthquake under western Idaho (4.9), followed by a stretch of relative quiet that allows our ears to settle into the pleasing ambience of the Earth's microseismic background "noise". But please don't turn up your volume yet, for the calm is soon interrupted by the arrival of surface waves from an earthquake under the Solomon Islands (7.4) — a continuation of last week's sequence of large earthquakes in that South Pacific region. Over the next minute, a few more small events from the Solomon Islands are heard, along with a gradual intensification of the background ambience, as a wind and rain storm approaches Maine. At about 01:45 surface waves arrive from an earthquake (5.9) under the Bouvet Islands, in the remote South Atlantic ocean. A few seconds later, at 01:51 we reach the morning hours of April 1, when many night-owls in North America witnessed the first of a series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses. But you won't hear a trace of the eclipse in this recording, since eclipses have no measurable effect on the Earth's seismic activity. Moving on, the hissing and crackling from the gathering windstorm approaches a climax at midweek, near 02:30. Over the next minute the local winds die down, but the seas continue to build offshore, causing the background noise to build in intensity and slide slowly downwards in pitch. Gradually the ocean swell fades away, allowing a few more distant earthquakes from the Solomon Islands to peek through (03:44) . Without warning, at 04:30 we hear the magnificent crash of the surface waves from a major earthquake in Mexico (7.2), followed about ten seconds later by a back-to-back pair of earthquakes from under Alaska (5.5 and 5.4). The remainder of the week is dominated by more aftershocks from under the ever-restless Solomon Islands. The program ends with a scarcely audible earthquake under Chile (5.8).

Also from this week: News | weather maps | weather summary | earthquakes worldwide
 

April 6-12, 2014 (program #2014.14)

Despite some very windy days here this week, you can easily hear earthquakes in Chile (5.8, 6.0), Nicaragua (6.1, 6.6), and the Solomon Islands (7.1, 7.6).

Also from this week: News | weather maps | weather summary | earthquakes worldwide
 

March 30-April 5, 2014 (program #2014.13)

A major series of earthquakes off the coast of Northern Chile (8.0, 7.8, and many more), and one south of Panama (5.8).

Also from this week: News | weather maps | weather summary | earthquakes worldwide
 

March 23-29 2014 (program #2014.12)

A late-winter blizzard that brought hurricane force winds to the waters in the Gulf of Maine made this a very noisy week underground. A few distant earthquakes can still be heard peeking through the cacophony: Chile (6.0) and southern California (5.3).

Also from this week: News | weather maps | weather summary | earthquakes worldwide
 

March 16-22 2014 (program #2014.11)

Earthquakes in Chile (6.7, 6.2, 5.9), Taiwan (5.6), the Kermadec Islands (5.7), the Nicobar Islands (6.5), and the Gulf of California (4.9, 5.2).

Also from this week: News | weather maps | weather summary | earthquakes worldwide
 

March 9-15 2014 (program #2014.10)

Earthquakes near the coast of Guerrero, Mexico (5.8); off the coast of northern California (6.8); in the Bismarck Sea (6.1); and off the coast of Peru (6.1).

Also from this week: News | weather maps | weather summary | earthquakes worldwide

return to top Frequently asked questions

I'm listening on my laptop (or iPhone, iPad, etc.), but I'm really not hearing much. What's going on?
Many of the sounds in these recordings contain low frequencies that aren't reproduced well by the speakers in these devices. Try using earbuds or headphones. Better yet, plug your machine into a good sound system.
At what time of day does each recording start?
Each recording begins just after midnight UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, or Greenwich Mean Time) of the first day and runs through midnight UTC of the last day. For example, the program for the week of March 16-22 begins at exactly 00:00 March 16 UTC (8pm Saturday March 15 EDT here in Maine) and runs until just before midnight March 23 UTC (8pm Saturday March 22 EDT). To convert from UTC to your local time zone, see www.timeanddate.com.
How did you get these stereo recordings from a single seismometer?
As a seismic wave passes by a point in the solid Earth, it causes each tiny particle of rock in its path to execute a complicated three-dimensional trajectory. A three-component seismometer captures all three components of this motion: up/down, north/south, and east/west. By carefully combining these three components into a two-channel audio mix, it's possible to create a convincing stereophonic effect. (Even more interesting effects are possible with multiple loudspeakers — but that's another story...)
One Week on Earth