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Researchers will attempt to translate Yellowstone's seismic activity into music

The Yellowstone National Park is one of the most seismically active areas in the U.S., with as many as 3,000 earthquakes recorded each year. On Tuesday, May 9, at the 2023 Internet2 Community Exchange conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Dominico Vicinanza, an expert in data sonification (the process of converting scientific measurements into sound) at Anglia Ruskin University, will attempt to turn the seismic activity recorded in real time at Yellowstone into music during an unprecedented live event. 

The music will be produced live on stage by using a computer program developed by Vicinanza that will map seismographic data to musical notes, which will then be performed by Alyssa Schwartz, a visiting assistant professor of Flute and Musicology at the Fairmont State University. Since earthquakes at Yellowstone often occur in “swarms,” with many of them happening in a very short time, it is impossible to predict what the music will sound like. 

“We have absolutely no idea how the music will turn out. Using my program, I’ll be converting the data to musical notes and if there’s significant seismic activity and big spikes in the data we’re receiving at that time, the music will be incredibly dramatic. Equally it could be quite serene, so it’s a huge artistic challenge for Alyssa to interpret, and it’s really Alyssa who will be taking all the risks,” said Vicinanza. 

“Alyssa won’t be able to change any note, but she will be able to interpret the piece of music created before her eyes, and she will be able to creatively use speed, articulation, or make certain parts softer or louder. It might be really difficult to play, but that’s what makes it exciting, and Alyssa is incredibly brave to be doing this in front of a live audience.”

According to Vicinanza – who will visit Yellowstone next year to capture his own recordings amongst the U.S. oldest national park’s hot springs and geysers – being able to musically perform what would otherwise be only seen on a graph can bring the power of nature to life and provide people the opportunity to experience more intensely Yellowstone’s natural wonders.

“Music, and sound in general, can be a really useful way of experiencing science – for scientists as well as the general public. After all, our ears are much more sensitive to small changes than our eyes. Every pattern, spike, or sudden change in the music is a direct representation of what is happening at that spot in Yellowstone at that time. Rather than just looking at a seismograph we can listen to it, and that’s an incredible thing,” he concluded.

More about Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is a large protected area located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming, but also extending into Montana and Idaho. Established in 1872 by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone is the first national park in the United States and is often considered the first national park in the world.

The park spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 square kilometers) and is known for its unique geothermal features, diverse ecosystems, and abundant wildlife.

Yellowstone is situated atop a volcanic hotspot, which is responsible for the park’s numerous geothermal features such as geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mudpots.

The park is home to the world-famous Old Faithful Geyser, which erupts at regular intervals, drawing millions of visitors each year. In total, the park has more than 10,000 geothermal features, making it the largest concentration of such features on Earth.

The park also boasts a diverse range of ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, and alpine areas.

This diversity supports a rich array of plant and animal life, including hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. Some of the most iconic animals that can be found in the park include the American bison, elk, gray wolves, grizzly bears, and bald eagles.

Yellowstone National Park offers various recreational activities for visitors, such as hiking, camping, fishing, wildlife viewing, and photography. The park has over 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of hiking trails and several campgrounds for those wishing to spend the night in the great outdoors.

Yellowstone is also known for the Yellowstone Caldera, a massive volcanic caldera that was formed during the last of three supereruptions that occurred over the past 2.1 million years.

The caldera measures about 34 miles (55 kilometers) by 45 miles (72 kilometers) and is considered an active volcano. While the chances of another massive eruption in the near future are relatively low, ongoing volcanic activity beneath the park is constantly monitored by scientists.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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