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Icequakes and rogue waves: geoscientists and musicians interpret the sounds of the sea

20 May 2021 Hamish Johnston

This episode of the Physics World Weekly podcast looks at how geoscientists and musicians interpret the soundscapes of the oceans in terms of both science and art.

Our first guest is geophysicist Rob Abbott of Sandia National Laboratory in the US. Earlier this year, he led an expedition to the arctic coast of Alaska’s North Slope where they used an undersea optical-fibre cable to listen to rumblings under the sea ice. He talks about detecting icequakes and possibly the icebreaking activities of a whale, as well the challenges of working in temperatures below -40 °C.

Next up is the geoscientist Rónadh Cox and the percussionist Cormac Byrne who share a love of Ireland’s rugged west coast and the bodhrán – a handheld drum associated with Irish folk music. Cox, who is at Williams College in Massachusetts, describes how huge Atlantic waves shape the Irish coastline – often shifting giant boulders. Byrne explains how he teamed up with Cox and musician  Rónán Ó Snodaigh to create music inspired by ocean waves – which he performs for us on the bodhrán.

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