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In acoustics, microbaroms, also known as the "voice of the sea",[1][2] are a class of atmospheric infrasonic waves generated in marine storms[3][4] by a non-linear interaction of ocean surface waves with the atmosphere.[5][6] They typically have narrow-band, nearly sinusoidal waveforms with amplitudes up to a few microbars,[7][8] and wave periods near 5 seconds (0.2 hertz).[9][10] Due to low atmospheric absorption at these low frequencies, microbaroms can propagate thousands of kilometers in the atmosphere, and can be readily detected by widely separated instruments on the Earth's surface.[5][11]

Microbaroms are a significant noise source that can potentially interfere with the detection of infrasound from nuclear explosions that is a goal of the International Monitoring System organized under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (which has not entered into force).[12] It is a particular problem for detecting low-yield tests in the one-kiloton range because the frequency spectra overlap.[11]


Microbaroms were first described in 1939 by American seismologists Hugo Benioff and Beno Gutenberg at the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena, based on observations from an electromagnetic microbarograph,[11] consisting of a wooden box with a low-frequency loudspeaker mounted on top.[13] They noted their similarity to microseisms observed on seismographs,[9] and correctly hypothesized that these signals were the result of low pressure systems in the Northeast Pacific Ocean.[11] In 1945, Swiss geoscientist L. Saxer showed the first relationship of microbaroms with wave height in ocean storms and microbarom amplitudes.[9] Eric S. Posmentier published his "theory of microbaroms" in 1967 based on the oscillations of the center of gravity of the air above the Ocean surface on which the standing waves appear, which fits well with observed data, including the doubling of the ocean wave frequency in the observed microbarom frequency.[14]


Isolated traveling, ocean surface gravity waves radiate only evanescent acoustic waves,[7] and don't generate microbaroms.[15] Microbaroms are generated by nonlinear interactions of ocean surface waves traveling in nearly opposite directions with similar frequencies in the lee of a storm,[16] which produce the required standing wave conditions,[15] also known as the clapotis.[17] When the ocean storm is a tropical cyclone, the microbaroms are not produced near the eye wall where wind speeds are greatest, but originate from the trailing edge of the storm where the storm generated waves interact with the ambient ocean swells.[18]

Microbaroms may also be produced by standing waves created between two storms,[16] or when an ocean swell is reflected at the shore.[19] Waves with approximately 10-second periods are abundant in the open oceans, and correspond to the observed 0.2 Hz infrasonic spectral peak of microbaroms, because microbaroms exhibit frequencies twice that of the individual ocean waves.[16] Studies have shown that the coupling produces propagating atmospheric waves only when non-linear terms are considered.[9]

Microbaroms are a form of persistent low-level atmospheric infrasound,[20] generally between 0.1 and 0.5 Hz, that may be detected as coherent energy bursts or as a continuous oscillation.[11] When the plane wave arrivals from a microbarom source are analyzed from a phased array of closely spaced microbarographs, the source azimuth is found to point toward the low-pressure center of the originating storm.[21] When the waves are received at multiple distant sites from the same source, triangulation can confirm the source is near the center of an ocean storm.[4]

Microbaroms that propagate up to the lower thermosphere may be carried in an atmospheric waveguide,[22] refracted back toward the surface from below 120 km and above 150 km altitudes,[16][23] or dissipated at altitudes between 110 and 140 km.[24] They may also be trapped near the surface in the lower troposphere by planetary boundary layer effects and surface winds, or they may by ducted in the stratosphere by upper level winds and returned to the surface through refraction, diffraction or scattering.[25] These tropospheric and stratospheric ducts are only generated along the dominant wind directions,[23] may vary by time of day and season,[25] and will not return the sound rays to the ground when the upper winds are light.[16]

The angle of incidence of the microbarom ray determines which of these propagation modes it experiences. Rays directed vertically toward the zenith are dissipated in the thermosphere, and are a significant source of heating in that layer of the upper atmosphere.[24] At mid latitudes in typical summer conditions, rays between approximately 30 and 60 degrees from the vertical are reflected from altitudes above 125 km where the return signals are strongly attenuated first.[26] Rays launched at shallower angles may be reflected from the upper stratosphere at approximately 45 km above the surface in mid latitudes,[26] or from 60–70 km in low latitudes.[16]

Atmospheric scientists have used these effects for inverse remote sensing of the upper atmosphere using microbaroms.[22][27][28][29] Measuring the trace velocity of the reflected microbarom signal at the surface gives the propagation velocity at the reflection height, as long as the assumption that the speed of sound only varies along the vertical, and not over the horizontal, is valid.[26] If the temperature at the reflection height can be estimated with sufficient precision, the speed of sound can be determined and subtracted from the trace velocity, giving the upper level wind speed.[26] One advantage of this method is the ability to measure continuously – other methods that can only take instantaneous measurements may have their results distorted by short-term effects.[8]

Additional atmospheric information can be deduced from microbarom amplitude if the source intensity is known. Microbaroms are produced by upward directed energy transmitted from the ocean surface through the atmosphere. The downward directed energy is transmitted through the ocean to the sea floor, where it is coupled to the Earth's crust and transmitted as microseisms with the same frequency spectrum.[8] However, unlike microbaroms, where the near vertical rays are not returned to the surface, only the near vertical rays in the ocean are coupled to the sea floor.[25] By monitoring the amplitude of received microseisms from the same source using seismographs, information on the source amplitude can be derived. Because the solid earth provides a fixed reference frame,[30] the transit time of the microseisms from the source is constant, and this provides a control for the variable transit time of the microbaroms through the moving atmosphere.[8]

Further reading[edit]

  • Benioff H.; Gutenberg B. (1939). "Waves and currents recorded by electromagnetic barographs". Bull. Am. Meteor. Soc. 20: 421. 
  • Saxer, L. (1945). "Electrical measurement of small atmospheric pressure oscillations". Helv. Phys. Acta. 18: 527–550. 
  • Posmentier, E.S. (1967). "A Theory of Microbaroms, Geophys". JR Ast. Soc. 13. 
  • Donn, W.L.; Naini, B. (1973). "Sea wave origin of microbaroms and microseisms". J. Geophys. Res. 78 (21): 4482–4488. Bibcode:1973JGR....78.4482D. doi:10.1029/JC078i021p04482. 


  1. ^ Bowman, H. S.; Bedard, A. J. (1971). "Observations of infrasound and subsonic disturbances related to severe weather". Geophys. J. R. Astron. Soc. 26: 215–242. Bibcode:1971GeoJI..26..215B. doi:10.1111/j.1365-246X.1971.tb03396.x. 
  2. ^ Bedard, A. J.; Georges, T. M. (2000). "Atmospheric infrasound" (PDF). Physics Today. 53 (3): 32–37. Bibcode:2000PhT....53c..32B. doi:10.1063/1.883019. 
  3. ^ "Microbarom". Mcgraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms. McGraw-Hill. 2003. ISBN 0-07-042313-X. 
  4. ^ a b "Microbaroms". Infrasonic Signals. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute, Infrasound Research Group. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  5. ^ a b Garcés, M. A.; Hetzer, C. H.; Willis, M.; Businger, S. (2003). "Integration Of Infrasonic Models With Ocean Wave Spectra And Atmospheric Specifications To Produce Global Estimates Of Microbarom Signal Levels". Proceedings of the 25th Seismic Research Review. pp. 617–627. 
  6. ^ Waxler, R.; Gilbert, K. E. (2006). "The radiation of atmospheric microbaroms by ocean waves". Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 119 (5): 2651. Bibcode:2006ASAJ..119.2651W. doi:10.1121/1.2191607. The acoustic radiation which results from the motion of the air/water interface is known to be a nonlinear effect. 
  7. ^ a b Arendt, S.; Fritts, D.C. (2000). "Acoustic radiation by ocean surface waves". Journal of Fluid Mechanics. 415: 1–21. doi:10.1017/S0022112000008636. Retrieved 2007-11-24. We show that because of the phase speed mismatch between surface gravity waves and acoustic waves, a single surface wave radiates only evanescent acoustic waves. 
  8. ^ a b c d Donn, W. L.; Rind, D. (1972). "Microbaroms and the Temperature and Wind of the Upper Atmosphere". Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. 29 (1): 156–172. Bibcode:1972JAtS...29..156D. doi:10.1175/1520-0469(1972)029<0156:MATTAW>2.0.CO;2. 
  9. ^ a b c d Olson, J. V.; Szuberla, C. A. L. (2005). "Distribution of wave packet sizes in microbarom wave trains observed in Alaska". Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 117 (3): 1032. Bibcode:2005ASAJ..117.1032O. doi:10.1121/1.1854651. 
  10. ^ Down, W. L. (1967). "Natural Infrasound of Five Seconds Period". Nature. 215 (5109): 1469–1470. Bibcode:1967Natur.215.1469D. doi:10.1038/2151469a0. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Willis, M. C.; Garces, M.; Hetzer, C.; Businger, S. (2004). "Source Modeling of Microbaroms in the Pacific" (PDF). AMS 2004 Annual Meeting. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  12. ^ Der, Z. A.; Shumway, R. H.; Herrin, E. T. (2002). Monitoring the comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: data processing and infrasound. Birkhäuser Verlag. p. 1084. ISBN 978-3-7643-6676-6. 
  13. ^ Haak, Hein; Evers, Läslo (2002). "Infrasound as a tool for CTBT verification" (PDF). In Findlay, Trevor; Meier, Oliver. Verification Yearbook 2002. Verification Research, Training Information Centre (VERTIC). p. 208. ISBN 1-899548-32-7. Two well-known American seismologists at the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena, Hugo Benioff and Beno Gutenberg, in 1939 developed both instrumentation and applications for the detection of infrasound. The primitive instrumentation consisted of a wooden box with a low-frequency loudspeaker mounted on top. 
  14. ^ "Microbaroms" (gif). Infrasonics Program. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  15. ^ a b Brown, David (2005–06). "Listening to the EARTH". AUSGEO News. Geoscience Australia. Retrieved 2007-11-22. It is important to note that isolated travelling ocean waves don’t radiate acoustically. Microbarom radiation requires standing wave conditions...  Check date values in: |date= (help)[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ a b c d e f Garcés, M.A. and Willis, M. and Hetzer, C. and Businger, S. (2004–07). "The Hunt For Leaky Elevated Infrasonic Waveguides" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-05-15. Retrieved 2007-11-23. Microbaroms are infrasonic waves generated by nonlinear interactions of ocean surface waves traveling in nearly opposite directions with similar frequencies. Such interactions commonly occur between ocean waves with approximately 10-second periods, which are abundant in the open oceans and correspond to the observed 0.2 Hz infrasonic spectral peak.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  17. ^ Tabulevich, V.N.; Ponomarev, E.A.; Sorokin, A.G.; Drennova, N.N. (2001). "Standing Sea Waves, Microseisms, and Infrasound". Izv. Akad. Nauk, Fiz. Atmos. Okeana. 37: 235–244. Retrieved 2007-11-28. In this process, the interference of differently directed waves occurs, which forms standing water waves, or the so-called clapotis....To examine andlocate these waves, it is proposed to use their inherent properties to exert (“pump”) a varying pressure on the ocean bottom, which generates microseismic vibrations, and to radiate infrasound into the atmosphere. 
  18. ^ Hetzer, C. H., R. Waxler, K. E. Gilbert, C. L. Talmadge, and H. E. Bass (2008). "Infrasound from hurricanes: Dependence on the ambient ocean surface wave field". Geophys. Res. Lett. 35 (14): L14609. Bibcode:2008GeoRL..3514609H. doi:10.1029/2008GL034614. Infrasound signals in the microbarom band (about 0.2 Hz) generated by hurricanes often do not appear to originate near the eye where the winds are strongest. This paper suggests that conditions conducive to microbarom (and microseism) generation can occur along the trailing periphery of the storm through the interaction of the storm-generated wavefield with the ambient swell field... <
  19. ^ Aucan, J.; Fee, D.; Garcés, M. (2006-03-10). "Infrasonic estimation of surf period" (PDF). Geophysical Research Letters. 33 (5): L05612. Bibcode:2006GeoRL..3305612A. doi:10.1029/2005GL025086. ...we suggest that this secondary peak is due to the primary swell energy being reflected at the beach. Such coastal reflections have been identified as the dominant source of microseismic signals at land-based seismic stations [Bromirski and Duennebier, 2002], and are also likely a source of microbaroms. 
  20. ^ Ball, P. (2004-01-04). "Meteors come in with a bang". Nature News. doi:10.1038/news010104-8. Archived from the original ( – Scholar search) on June 20, 2004. Retrieved 2007-11-22. ...the background noise generated by ocean waves, which create a constant barrage of small atmospheric booms called microbaroms. 
  21. ^ Bass, Henry E.; Kenneth Gilbert; Milton Garces; Michael Hedlin; John Berger; John V. Olson; Charles W. Wilson; Daniel Osborne (2001). "Studies Of Microbaroms Using Multiple Infrasound Arrays" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2004-10-21. Retrieved 2007-11-22. When we perform a least-squares fit to plane-wave arrivals on the data we find the apparent source azimuth points to the center of the storm low-pressure center. 
  22. ^ a b Crocker, Malcolm J. (1998). Handbook of acoustics. New York: Wiley. p. 333. ISBN 0-471-25293-X. Microbaroms (3-6-s periods) can be used to monitor conditions in the upper atmosphere. ... indicating propagation through the thermospheric duct. ... 
  23. ^ a b Garcés, M.; Drob, D.; Picone, M. (1999). "Geomagnetic and solar effects on thermospheric phases during Winter". Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union. 80. The tropospheric and stratospheric ducts are only generated along the dominant wind directions. The thermosphere will frequently have two turning regions, and thus support two distinct phases. 
  24. ^ a b Rind, D. (1977). "Heating of the lower thermosphere by the dissipation of acoustic waves". Journal of Atmospheric and Terrestrial Physics. 39 (4): 445–456. Bibcode:1977JATP...39..445R. doi:10.1016/0021-9169(77)90152-0. Infrasound of 0.2 Hz known as microbaroms, generated by interfering ocean waves, propagates into the lower thermosphere where it is dissipated between 110 and 140 km. 
  25. ^ a b c Garcés, M.; Drob, D.P.; Picone, J.M. (2002). "A theoretical study of the effect of geomagnetic fluctuations and solar tides on the propagation of infrasonic waves in the upper atmosphere". Geophysical Journal International. Royal Astronomical Society. 148: 77–87. Bibcode:2002GeoJI.148...77G. doi:10.1046/j.0956-540x.2001.01563.x. Observed arrivals with a low apparent horizontal phase velocity may be refracted in the thermosphere or the stratosphere.... The presence of these tropospheric and stratospheric ducts is dependent on the intensity and direction of the winds, and thus they may be sporadic or seasonal. 
  26. ^ a b c d Rind, D.; Donn, W.L.; Dede, E. (1973–11). "Upper Air Wind Speeds Calculated from Observations of Natural Infrasound". Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. 30 (8): 1726–1729. Bibcode:1973JAtS...30.1726R. ISSN 1520-0469. doi:10.1175/1520-0469(1973)030<1726:UAWSCF>2.0.CO;2. Greater resolution than that reproduced here shows that rays with angles of incidence <64° are not reflected below 125 km, at which height dissipation effects strongly attenuate the signal (Donn and Rind).  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  27. ^ Etter, Paul C. (2003). Underwater acoustic modeling and simulation. London: Spon Press. p. 15. ISBN 0-419-26220-2. Atmospheric scientists have employed naturally generated, low-frequency sound (microbaroms) to probe the upper layers of the atmosphere in an inverse fashion. 
  28. ^ Tabulevich, V.N.; Sorokin, A.G.; Ponomaryov, E.A. (1998). "Microseisms and infrasound: a kind of remote sensing". Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors. 108 (4): 339–346. Bibcode:1998PEPI..108..339T. doi:10.1016/S0031-9201(98)00113-7. 
  29. ^ Donn, W.L.; Rind, D. (1971). "Natural infrasound as an atmospheric probe". Geophys. J. R. Astron. Soc. 26 (1–4): 111–133. Bibcode:1971GeoJI..26..111D. doi:10.1111/j.1365-246X.1971.tb03386.x. Microbaroms thus provide a continuously available natural mechanism for probing the upper atmosphere. 
  30. ^ Ponomarev, E.A.; Sorokin, A.G. "Infrasonic Waves in the Atmosphere over East Siberia" (PDF). N. N. Andreyev Acoustics Institute (Moscow, Russia). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-01-30. The Earth's crust can be regarded as a time-invariable medium. By comparing microbaroms and microseisms, this permits a monitoring of acoustic channels to be carried out.