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Immerse Yourself in the Sounds of the National Parks

The splendor of the National Parks is often broadcast through photographs—and with good reason. The vistas of mountain tops, geysers, and river flows from sea to shining sea are truly spectacular. But what about the auditory experience of these protected lands?

To capture that experience, a team from Arizona State University has created The Listen(n) Project, an online database for the many sounds of the National Parks of the American Southwest. Since 2013, the group has been collecting sonic samples from seven different sites including Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Sequoia National Park. On the site you can hear everything from birds chirping to a car door slam for a well-rounded documentary-style soundtrack.

It isn’t just about the audio, either. To make the experience as real as possible, Listen(n) has created the “EcoRift experience.” Using an Oculus Rift headset, they’ve create a virtual reality immersion with 360-degree imaging and spherical audio technology so you get context with your soundbite. You can turn your head to peep the landscape and the noises will adjust as if you’re experiencing them in real life. Pitch or resonance with change as you shift virtually in your environment.

The team plans to continue building the database and providing park visitors and communities with audio recording devices so they they can help add to the sonic story of a particular place. That includes working with rangers, who can help collect sounds from protected areas that are inaccessible to the public.

“One of the most inspiring things is when we did one-day workshops during National Park Week,” associate professor Garth Paine told ASU News. “When you give the kids a microphone, a recorder and a pair of headphones, they are just blown away. I’m endlessly dumbstruck by how they direct attention and really investigate.”

On October 16, Listen(n) will add another dimension to the project by releasing three pieces of music derived from the park recordings. Just another way to immerse yourself in National Park vibes even when you’re hundreds of miles away.

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Geological Map Shows the Massive Reservoir Bubbling Beneath Old Faithful
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Yellowstone National Park is home to rivers, waterfalls, and hot springs, but Old Faithful is easily its most iconic landmark. Every 45 to 125 minutes, visitors gather around the geyser to watch it shoot streams of water reaching up to 100 feet in the air. The punctual show is one of nature’s greatest spectacles, but new research from scientists at the University of Utah suggests that what’s going on at the geyser’s surface is just the tip of the iceberg.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, features a map of the geological plumbing system beneath Old Faithful. Geologists have long known that the eruptions are caused by water heated by volcanic rocks beneath the ground reaching the boiling point and bubbling upwards through cracks in the earth. But the place where this water simmers between appearances has remained mysterious to scientists until now.

Using 133 seismometers scattered around Old Faithful and the surrounding area, the researchers were able to record the tiny tremors caused by pressure build-up in the hydrothermal reservoir. Two weeks of gathering data helped them determine just how large the well is. The team found that the web of cracks and fissures beneath Old Faithful is roughly 650 feet in diameter and capable of holding more than 79 million gallons of water. When the geyser erupts, it releases just 8000 gallons. You can get an idea of how the reservoir fits into the surrounding geology from the diagram below.

Geological map of geyser.
Sin-Mei Wu, University of Utah

After making the surprising discovery, the study authors plan to return to the area when park roads close for the winter to conduct further research. Next time, they hope to get even more detailed images of the volatile geology beneath this popular part of Yellowstone.

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31 Facts About National Parks
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A little over 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service into law, ensuring that the country’s most remarkable natural landscapes would be preserved for future generations. Today, national parks are more popular than ever, with millions of visitors passing through the system’s 400-odd properties each year. But even if you’re working to check every national park off your bucket list, you may be unfamiliar with some of these facts. For instance, did you know that Dolly Parton is an official ambassador to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Or that Yosemite campaigned to host the Winter Olympics in 1932?

That’s just some of the trivia John Green shares in this latest video from Mental Floss on YouTube. You can check out all 31 facts above, then subscribe to our channel if you're still hungry for more brain food.

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