TechSinging dunes of Dunhuang. Cultural mystique meets science in China's Desert Symphony

Singing dunes of Dunhuang. Cultural mystique meets science in China's Desert Symphony

Dunes - illustrative photo
Dunes - illustrative photo
Images source: © Unsplash
12:30 PM EST, January 13, 2024

Several places in China feature singing dunes. Among the most significant is Dunhuang, a city that once connected China with Europe and the Middle East via the ancient Silk Road trade route. These dunes offer an alluring variety in size and hue, capturing attention even from scientific platforms such as IFL Science. The tallest dune, impressively, reaches a height of approximately 5623 feet.

Yet, it's not only their appearance that draws interest. Their acoustic performances often steal the limelight. An old Chinese tale narrates that this region was once mountainous, and the still-existing Crescent Moon Lake was edged with temples. As the legend goes, noise from these temples disturbed the Yellow Dragon Prince, who, in his wrath, covered everything with sand. The noticeable sounds from the dunes are thus believed to be the anguished voices of the buried people.

This captivating legend adds to the allure, attracting tourists worldwide. However, a scientific explanation exists behind this desert symphony. The sound owes its origin to the unique characteristics of the local sand. World News Today points out that the granular quality of the sand, variably small to medium-sized, facilitates better motion and interplay between grains.

Grain shape and geographical location significantly contribute, including the dunes' formation and adjacent mountainous terrains, which concentrate wind currents around Dunhuang. The region's arid conditions are vital as well. Singing dunes are exclusive to desert environments as the low humidity enhances grain friction. As the grains shuffle, interact, and displace themselves, they generate this distinctive desert music.

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