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December 14, 2017

Sound of the red rock arches (Image 1)

Researcher Ben White near the top of Corona Arch in Utah after placing a seismometer there. Ambient vibration data are used to distinguish and measure the resonant frequencies of this and several other arches in southeastern Utah, many with considerable cultural value. [Image 1 of 6 related images. See Image 2.]

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At the red rock arches of the Colorado Plateau, seismic vibrations that are almost imperceptible to human ears ripple through the rocks. Geoscientist Jeff Moore of the University of Utah uses recordings of the vibrations to study the arches' structural stability. Moore is learning where the seismic vibrations come from and how they affect the arches. Artist Jacob Kirkegaard layers Moore's recordings with sounds of the arches' environment to show that the rocks are a vibrant part of their ecosystem.

"These rock movements are happening every second of every day, but are too small for us to see or feel," said Moore. "Hearing the natural hum of the arches gives them a 'voice' where, in effect, they convey their state of health and their responses to all manner of forces."

Moore's National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded study of Utah's Rainbow Bridge revealed that seismic sources as close as Lake Powell (on the border of Utah and Arizona) and as far away as Oklahoma caused vibrations in the bridge. The scientist characterized how waves resonate throughout the bridge, causing small movements that, when exaggerated, look like wobbles on a plate of gelatin.

This research has important implications for the conservation and management of our nation's natural resources," said Justin Lawrence, a program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences, "especially related to natural hazards such as earthquakes as well as the impacts of human visitation."

[Images in this series dated 2017 were taken on an NSF-supported field excursion (grant EAR 14-24896) where Ph.D. student Paul Geimer and Moore visited several arches in southern Utah, together with Kirkegaard, to collect seismic vibration and ambient acoustic data for use in the sound-art piece.]

To learn more about this research, see the NSF Discovery story Song of the red rock arches. (Date image taken: August 2013; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Dec. 12, 2017)

Credit: Alison Starr, University of Utah

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