What's causing a spooky hum to fill parts of San Francisco?
A renovation designed to make the Golden Gate Bridge last longer just made it much more annoying. Here's why.
The Golden Gate Bridge hums now.
San Francisco residents shared recordings of the sound on social media last week and over the weekend as high winds swept through the Bay Area. One Twitter user described the sound as a "three-tone dissonant soundtrack," and others reported hearing it from as far away as 3 miles (4.8 kilometers).
TIL: The Golden Gate Bridge has just become the world’s largest wind instrument.No, but seriously:There is now a permanent creepy 3-tone dissonant soundtrack flooding San Francisco thanks to some recently completed bridge construction. pic.twitter.com/05ImVT7Im7June 6, 2020
Related: What's that noise? 11 strange and mysterious sounds on Earth and beyond
SF311, which provides non-emergency services and information for San Francisco residents, tweeted that slats installed along the bridge's bike path were responsible for the noise, citing the Golden Gate Bridge sergeant, an officer with the California Highway Patrol.
The local National Weather Service office tweeted that west-northwest winds of 30 to 35 mph (48 to 56 km/h) had been reported in the area, with gusts up to 43 mph (67 km/h). Even higher winds were reported in nearby counties.
FWIW, a weather station near the Golden Gate reported sustained WNW winds of 30-35mph, with gusts to 43mph as this was occurring. Gusts of 45-60mph were reported nearby in Marin and San Francisco counties today. #CAwx https://t.co/isEigAvgegJune 6, 2020
KQED reported that the slats were added as part of a "necessary" long-term effort to make the 83-year-old bridge more aerodynamic and insure its long-term structural integrity. Wind tunnel models of the retrofit had already shown the slats might hum under certain conditions.
The effect has turned the bridge into a giant wind instrument — maybe the world's largest — as one Twitter user noted.
As much as I would‘ve loved this eerie sound to be aliens coming for us, apparently it’s the installation of new wind resistance railing that has turned the Golden Gate Bridge into a huge instrument that can be heard all around the Bay!Hypnotizing! #goldengatebridge #SanFrancisco pic.twitter.com/DhWEnttp2XJune 6, 2020
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia offers a helpful online guide to sounds like this. In general, wind instruments work by turning the energy of moving air into a standing wave — a pattern of vibration moving back and forth in the instrument. The instrument's cavity determines the frequency — and thus the sound — of that standing wave. And the instrument itself amplifies the wave into a sound loud enough to hear.
The details of this process vary widely from ancient flutes to oboes to a glass bottle someone might blow over. Materials, tuning and airflow determine what sounds get produced.
But whatever particular dynamics of the bridge slats that have produced this eerie sound, it looks like San Fransiscans will have to get used to it on windy days. Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.
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Originally published on Live Science.
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