Loudest on Earth!
The loudest noises that most people would experience in their normal life can be things like emergency alarms, building-demolishment, fireworks or even jet engines. For example, fire alarms can reach up to 97 dB, fireworks can hit 120dB. But guess what? These are nothing compared to the most ear-shattering sounds from events, objects, or even living things that were recorded on Earth.
Let us start with the loudest event ever…
Krakatoa Eruption (1883) – 310 dB
On the 27th of August 1883, a volcanic eruption (Plinian eruption) occurred on the volcanic island of Krakatoa that is located between the islands of Java and Sumatra, Indonesia. This incident had been recorded as one of the deadliest and most destructive volcanic events out of all the recorded history, destroying the previous volcanic edifice, causing the enlargement of its caldera (Discovery, n.d.). The explosive sounds during the eruption were claimed to be heard clearly even at 5000 km away from the volcano.
According to the available data, it was recorded that the sound reached 310 dB at its source, and 189 – 202 dB detected from 5 km away. Residents all the way from 3000 – 4000 km away, like New Guinea and Western Australia, had reported that they heard “a series of loud reports, resembling those of artillery in a north-westerly direction”. As exaggerating as it may sound like, the terrifying roar from the eruption sent sound waves around the world four times! This devastating explosion, that is almost equivalently powerful like 10000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, had made the Krakatoa eruption one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history (Sheehan, 2019).
Sperm Whale – 230 dB
“Sperm whales are so loud they could potentially “Vibrate” you to death” – a title found from an online article written by Samantha Hartery (Hartery, n.d.).
It is claimed that sperm whales can be so loud that their clicks can kill a human within their vicinity, according to a science and adventure journalist. In water, their clicks can be so powerful such that they are capable of blowing out eardrums easily. They can even vibrate a human body to death. Why is it so?
Sperm whales are the loudest mammals on Earth. Their vocalizations can reach up to 230 dB, which is extremely loud. As a comparison, a jet engine from 100 feet away can product approximately 140 dB, and at 150 dB your eardrums will burst. It is estimated that the threshold for death is in the range of 180 to 200 dB, which proves the harmfulness of sound from sperm whales, especially when sound will be more amplified in water than on land. This is because the density of water is higher than air.
The powerful sound by the whales is generated when air passes through the whales’ nasal passages, that is subsequently forced into the “monkey lips” in front of the noise, just underneath the blowhole. This concept is similar to air passing through the neck of balloon. Next, the sound will be amplified by the spermaceti organ (a wax-filled organ) sitting on top of the whale’s skull. Some of the clicks will then bounce off a portion of the skull, which will be directed back outward through the spermaceti organ. With this method, scientists estimated that sperm whales are capable of hearing one another at hundreds, or maybe even thousands of miles away!
Tsar Bomba (1961) – 224 dB
On 30th October 1961, the Soviet RDS-202 hydrogen bomb, also known as Ivan or Vanya, was detonated over the Novaya Zemlya island in the Arctic Ocean. This was when the largest nuclear weapon was ever set off, and since then it was known to the world as the Tsar Bomba, which means the King of Bombs in Russian (Tikkanen, 2017).
The Tsar Bomba was created by a group of Soviet physicists, during a time when the Cold War had turned very tense. The bomb was 8 m long, weighed 27,000 kg, resulting in an explosion that is equivalent to 50 mega-tonnes of TNT. This means that the strength of the Tsar Bomba was about 3300 times stronger (some articles claimed to be even higher) than the well-known Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs in 1945. Thus, the Tsar Bomba is considered as the strongest sound ever produced by mankind, where the most reliable source stated that the explosion was clocked as 224 dB.
Saturn V Rocket – 204 dB
The Saturn V was a rocket built by NASA for the Apollo programme during the 1960s and 1970s, which is the most powerful rocket that had flown successfully till now (Hitt, 2017). The rocket type of Saturn V is called a Heavy Lift Vehicle. Aside from being the most powerful spacecraft, it was also the tallest, being 111 m tall, which is about the height of a 36-storeys tall building. It weighed 2.8 million kilograms, which is around 400 elephants! The Saturn V is capable of generating 34.5 million newtons of thrust at launch/lift-off, and at the same time it inevitably produced quite a lot of noise. The recorded sound produced by Saturn V was 204 dB.
Chelyabinsk Meteor – 180 dB
In 2013, the Chelyabinsk (20 m wide) exploded over Russia, producing a force equivalent to 500 kilotonnes of TNT that shattered glass and windows, tossed debris throughout the city and caused major injuries to more than 1000 people (Martin, 2020). The event was not anticipated by experts because no one saw the meteor approaching. This had cost over £25.3million worth of damage to the small Russian city.
Massive booms can normally emit a huge amount of far-reaching ruckus called infrasound, which is at a very low frequency that human ears are unable to detect. The fact that the Chelyabinsk hit sensors 9000 miles away in Antarctica was used in calculations, suggesting that the meteor explosion hit 180 dB from three miles away.
There were many videos taken during the event which can still be found online. If you browse through the clips, you will hear a loud boom as a relatively small space rock touched down on the ground.
Large European Acoustic Facility (LEAF) – 154 dB
Being a part of the ESTEC Test Centre in the Netherlands, LEAF is a test chamber that is 11 m wide, 9 m deep and 16.4 m high, making it the largest European facility of its kind (ESA, 2014). The chamber’s walls are made from steel-reinforced concrete with 0.5 m thickness to contain sound, and it is also coated with a thick coating of epoxy resin with the function of reducing noise absorption and increase internal reverberation. With such properties, LEAF has been widely used for testing processes in the design stage of various products. For example, satellites have been tested in LEAF whether they can stand the sustained loud noise produced by rocket launches.
One of LEAF’s walls is embedded with a set of sound horns of the same basic designs as of those in stereo speakers that can produce noise up to or more than 154 dB when nitrogen is shot through them, producing noise that is equivalent to multiple jet aircraft lifting off simultaneously at 30 m away.
The main function of LEAF is to reproduce realistic spectral noise pressure levels, similar to noise coming from launcher engines. The LEAF provides the environmental performance as required, offering adjustable noise levels and spectral shapes.
Howler Monkeys – 140 dB
The howler monkey is no doubt the loudest land animal on Earth, with its ability of producing sounds reaching 140 dB at peak that can be heard from three miles away (Kiprop, 2018). This type of monkey inhabits the rainforests of the Central and South America, usually living in a group of between 6 – 15 members. Their “howls” sound like a combination of an air-raid siren and a heavy-metal guitar solo. How can such small animals make sounds as loud as this?
Howler monkeys have a hyoid bone in their throats that evolved to become a large resonating chamber. This hyoid bone can amplify the monkeys’ roar. Their loud sounds are normally used for communication purposes, for example to call the young ones, to defend their territories or from predators, and possibly for mate-guarding as well.
There you go, some of the loudest sounds ever that happened throughout the history that have been recorded. Did you realize that loud sounds can be from anything, be it manmade or from the nature itself? Why not share some other loud sounds that you have came across before in the comments section below!
Discovery, V. (n.d.). Krakatau Eruptions. Retrieved from Volcano Discovery: https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/krakatau-eruptions.html
Doyle, S. (2020). What?! I Can’t Hear you! (Vol. 15). (D. Ross, Ed.) The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
ESA. (2014, January 29). Large European Acoustic Facility (LEAF). Retrieved February 23, 2021, from European Space Agency (ESA): https://www.esa.int/Enabling_Support/Space_Engineering_Technology/Test_centre/Large_European_Acoustic_Facility_LEAF
Hartery, S. (n.d.). Sperm whales are so loud they could potentially “vibrate” you to death. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from Roaring Earth: https://roaring.earth/sperm-whales-can-vibrate-humans-to-death/
Hitt, D. (2017, August 7). What was the Saturn V? (S. May, Editor) Retrieved February 22, 2021, from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/nasa-knows/what-was-the-saturn-v-58.html
Kiprop, V. (2018, June 21). The World’s Loudest Animals. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from World Atlas: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-world-s-loudest-animals.html#:~:text=Howler%20Monkey%20%2D%20140%20decibels,land%20animals%20in%20the%20world.
Martin, S. (2020, January 22). Asteroid shock: Video shows all angles of Chelyabinsk meteor collision – watch. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from Express – Home of the Daily and Sunday Express: https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1231910/asteroid-news-video-chelyabinsk-meteor-hit-earth-asteroids-impact-tunguska
Sheehan, D. P. (2019, August 27). The loudest sound in history: Krakatoa erupted on this date 136 years ago. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from The Morning Call: https://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-nws-krakatoa-anniversary-20190827-udxuiu2zmzf7xpubkmg6uju3pm-story.html
Tikkanen, A. (2017, August 10). Tsar Bomba – Soviet thermonuclear bomb. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tsar-Bomba
Written by Khei Yinn Seow
Posted on February 23, 2021