Friday, September 25, 2015

Episode 283 (9-25-15): Turning Water to Music through Sonification

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:08)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 9-25-15.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of September 28, 2015.

MUSIC – ~ 5 sec

This week, we travel to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, where music like this is bringing sound to the realm of water-science measurements.  Have a listen for about 15 more seconds.

MUSIC  - ~16 sec

You’ve been listening to an example of sonification – that is, using sound to represent data, and by doing so, help people interpret or appreciate such data.  Sonfication is used in many fields, ranging from medicine to psychology; a Geiger counter’s clicks in response to radiation levels is a familiar example.  The sonification you heard applies music to water and weather data—such as stream flow [MUSIC – 3 sec], temperature [MUSIC – 3 sec], and soil moisture [MUSIC – 2 sec]—measured at the U.S. Forest Service’s Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire.  Scientists have long used graphs and other visual aids to interpret their data; Hubbard Brook’s Waterviz project is exploring new ways that visual arts and sound can make water data more widely understandable.

And there’s a lot at Hubbard Brook worth understanding.  Hubbard Brook is a nationally important research facility, celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2015.  Among other achievements, acid rain research at Hubbard Brook helped lead to federal Clean Air Act amendments in 1990.  Since 1998, the facility’s been one of the National Science Foundation’s long-term ecological research sites: 26 areas—including the Virginia Coastal Reserve site—that allow scientists to study large natural systems over a long time, using consistent measurements.  At Hubbard Brook, stream processes within watersheds and the water cycle are studied by scientists from around the country, including from Virginia, and those studies are supported by continuous measurements that generate lots of data.  Waterviz’ sonification efforts aim to help scientists and citizens alike explore those data through the ear as well as the eye.

Thanks to Marty Quinn of Design Rhythmics Sonification Research Lab and the Hubbard Brook staff for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with an excerpt from the sonification of data in August 2011, including heavy rainfall, saturated soils, and surging stream flows brought by Tropical Storm Irene on August 28.

MUSIC – ~ 13 sec

For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


Thanks to Lindsey Rustad and Marty Quinn, at the U.S. Forest Service’s Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, for permission to use the sounds heard in this episode and for their other help with the episode.

The excerpts used were from the sonification of all data combined for June 2015; samples of music used for stream flow, temperature, and soil moisture; and the sonification of all data combined for August 2011, from “Hurricane Irene: A Combined Waterviz and Sonification,” online at


Used in Audio

Thomas Hermann, Andy Hunt, and John G. Neuhoff, eds., The Sonification Handbook, Logos Publishing House, Berlin, Germany, 2011; available online at  [Used Chapter 1 to see overview of sciences using sonification.   Chapter 20, p. 509: “One of the oldest technological examples of auditory display is the Geiger counter, invented by the German nuclear physicist Hans Johann Wilhelm Geiger in 1908.”]

Long-term Ecological Research Network, online at  For the Virginia Coastal Reserve site, see

U.S. Forest Service, “Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study,” online at

U.S. Forest Service (and several partners), “Waterviz at Hubbard Brook,” online at (sonification section at; visualizations section at; water cycle section at

For More Information on the Water Cycle or Watersheds

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Surf Your Watershed,” online at  This site allows users to locate larger watersheds and watershed information across the United States.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “USGS Water Science School,” online at

USGS, “Water Resources of Virginia,” online at  This is the home page for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Virginia Water Science Center.

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “Virginia’s Major Watersheds,” online at


Some previous episodes focusing on the water cycle or watersheds include the following:
Hydrologists Study and Sing, “Where Does the Water Go?” – Episode 198, 1/27/14;
The Water Cycle – Episode 191, 12/9/13;
A Watersheds Lesson in “Mountain Stream” by Bob Gramann – Episode 156, 4/8/13;
One Big, Blue Ridge Helps Create Three Big Virginia Rivers – Episode 209, 4/14/14;
A Musical Tour of Rivers and Watersheds – Episode 251, 2/2/15.

All episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (


This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Force, Motion, and Energy Theme
5.2 – sound creation, transmission, and use.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems.

Life Science Course
LS.6 - ecosystem interactions, including the water cycle.

Physical Science Course
PS.8 – characteristics of sound waves, including technological applications of sound.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 - freshwater resources, including groundwater, and influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans.

Physics Course
PH.2 – analyzing and interpreting data.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies SOLs:

Government Course
GOVT.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels [the episode may help with learning about the role of U.S. and state government—via universities—in scientific research at experimental forests and their influence on public policy.]

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at