The Hunt For The Voice Of Utah’s Arches

Double O Arch. Click to hear!

In the 1990 movie The Hunt For Red October, a stealth submarine is located by what a computer thinks are seismic sounds, but when sped up, they are clearly mechanical. We won’t spoil it further on the off chance that you haven’t seen. We can’t help but wonder if [Prof. Jeff Moore] and his team at the University of Utah were inspired by the movie. Why so? Because they have taken the seismic vibrations of the beautiful arches in Utah, US and sped them up 25 times, placing them right in the range of human hearing on their Red Rock Tones website. Go have a quick listen. We’ll be right here.

The resulting sound bites are just beautiful, and some of them have an almost eerie underwater tone to them as if driven along by a clandestine propulsion system. But that might just be our imagination running away a bit. That’s likely the point of this scientific exercise, however- taking raw scientific data and making it accessible and somehow relevant to even non-geologists.

The Dynamics of Rock Arches All Images Courtesy Prof Jeff Moore

[Prof Moore] and his team aren’t just placing seismometers on natural rock arches for the fun of it, even though that does sound like some fun. Instead, they are studying the natural resonances of these rock formations- both the primary frequencies and the harmonics. By monitoring changes in their resonant frequencies over time, they gain an understanding of how the rock is changing- especially as it relates to the impact that humans have on these natural wonders.

What’s more, these audible representations of seismic waves are something that may be possible for the determined hacker. We’ve featured several DIY seismometers such as this hacked USB mouse designed to detect elephants on the move. Could it be sensitive enough for measuring seismic activity? Try it out, and let us know!

Special thanks to [Prof. Jeff Moore] for permission to use the images for this article.

A Web Connected Seismometer

[10DotMatrix] has a budding interest in seismology, so she decided to make her own seismometer out of some easy-to-find materials. Seismometers are prohibitively expensive for hobbyists, but thankfully it’s really easy to build a usable siesmometer out of simple parts. [10DotMatrix]’s seismometer is built around a modified subwoofer, which acts as a transducer for the earth’s vibrations.

The subwoofer is mounted to the bottom of a tripod, which forms the structure of the seismometer. A slinky is stretched between the top of the tripod and a weight that rests on the coil of the subwoofer. Whenever the ground shakes, the slinky and weight vibrate and induce current in the voice coil.

Since these vibrations are usually quite small, the output of the subwoofer needs a bit of amplification. [10DotMatrix] fed the output of the woofer to an AD620 op amp, which amplifies the signal to a measurable level. The amplifier’s output is fed into an Intel Edison board, which samples the voltage and transmits it to a web dashboard for online viewing.

If you’re shaking with excitement about seismic measurements you’ll surely be interested in this similar method which uses a piezo element as the detector.


Detecting Seismic Waves With A Piezo Element

While we normally see piezo elements being used to output audio, [Veedo] thought that they could be used in a more useful manner. He bought way too many piezo film tabs and decided to use them to build a makeshift seismic sensor.

The piezo tabs came with weights attached at one end, though while testing them, he found that they more or less only detected vibrations with frequencies in the KHz range. Since earthquakes tend to produce vibrations in the 30-80 Hz range, he had to tweak his setup to detect the proper frequencies. To do this, he attached a weight made of a screw and washers, checking the output signals on his oscilloscope until the dominant sensed frequencies were in the range of 40 Hz.

The sensor was attached to a breadboard, then wired through a charge amp to create a small AC signal, which floats on 2.5Vdc. The bottom half of the wave is chopped off with a diode, after which it is fed into an Arduino Mega. The seismic data is then pushed up to his Pachube account for storage, though he can view the feeds locally via the a web server programmed into the Arduino.

We’re not sure how much advanced notice this sort of setup would give you in the event of an earthquake, but it seems like a fun project to build either way.