June 24, 2021
Listen: The Weird and Wonderful Booming Dunes of China
Singing sands, they’re sometimes called. Massive sand dunes, when dry enough, can produce eery, haunting sounds as wind whips the top layer of sand creating a static electricity charge and release. At least, that’s one theory. Scientists still don’t know exactly what causes the sound.
The tallest sand dunes in the world are in the Badain Jaran Desert, in northern China. Some of the dunes pile 1,600 feet high. As a sand avalanche builds and sloughs down the massive face of the dune, a low rumble sounds, sometimes growing as loud as 105 decibels, roughly as loud as a jet airplane revving at 1,000 feet above you.
It takes a dune and just enough angle and size to produce the boom and if there’s any moisture at all in the sand, forget about it.
The podcast below from Atlas Obscura explains the sound in more detail and has excellent, sorta freaky examples of it the music of the dunes.