Strange hum keeping West Seattle awake
by JIM FORMAN /KING 5 News
Julie Schickling stood out on her porch in West Seattle just after midnight because she couldn't explain what she was hearing. So she recorded the sound (listen here on West Seattle Blog).
"It gets high and lower, and goes away, then comes back," said Schickling.
Some of her neighbors report being shaken out of bed by the low rumble, also described as a growl. In fact, as many people you talk with is about how many different words you heard to describe it.
"It is kind of creepy," Kay Kirkpatrick, the West Seattle resident said of the sound. "It creeps you out a little bit."
The neighboring large industries say they aren't to blame.
Then what is? Something the City of Seattle is looking into.
Some long time residents say they've heard this sound before over the years. Others say it's the first encounter they've had with the eerie noise.
"We want to know," Kirkpatrick said. "Tell us what it is."
Canada to Study Mysterious 'Windsor Hum'
Marc Lallanilla, Life's Little Mysteries Assistant EditorDate: 22 January 2013 Time: 04:29 PM ET
Some people have described the sound as a low, humming drone. Others say it changes into a heavy "whump, whump, whump" sound. Still others have compared it to the bass rumblings of soul singer Barry White.
But whatever the mysterious sound known as the "Windsor Hum" is compared to, the residents of this small city in Ontario, Canada (directly adjacent to Detroit) agree that it's driving them bonkers.
"There's a rumble that takes place, and it is enough to shake your king-sized bed and rattle your windows and vibrate other parts of the house," Windsor resident Gary Grosse told Ontario's National Post. "And that is enough to wake you up, and it's enough to drive you insane."
Now, for the first time since the Windsor Hum was first reported in 2011, the government of Canada is taking the complaints seriously. Researchers from the University of Windsor and Western University in London, Ontario, have been given a grant of $60,000 to analyze the noise and determine its cause, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail.
Hums have been reported in other parts of the world for years. The Taos Hum has bedeviled residents of the northern New Mexican town for decades. Bristol, England, Aukland, New Zealand and Bondi, Australia have all been plagued by unexplained booming, buzzing or droning noises, according to Time.com. These hums have been blamed on seismic events, underground lava or industrial equipment.
And the Earth itself is known to make a hum, generated by a number of events including the rumbling of storm-driven ocean waves. Researchers now believe the Earth's hum can help them analyze the composition of our planet's interior.
No other hum, however, has set off an international diplomatic kerfuffle like Windsor's. Preliminary analyses have led investigators to believe the source of the hum is on or near Zug Island, an industrial area on the Michigan side of the international border, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Zug Island area, surrounded by chain-link fencing, is off-limits to the public, thwarting any investigation by researchers. Canadian diplomats formally raised the Windsor Hum issue with the U.S. Department of State last year, but no substantive action has come of it, according to the Journal.
It doesn't help that nobody on the American side of the border seems to hear any disturbing sounds. One U.S. resident joked that the only noise pollution he has heard recently "is Canadian singer Celine Dion," the Journal reports.
The Hum, a Worldwide Acoustic Mystery, Stumps Researchers
By Marc Lallanilla, Assistant Editor | July 25, 2013 09:11am ET
It creeps in slowly in the dark of night, and once inside, it almost never goes away.
It's known as the Hum, a steady, droning sound that's heard in places as disparate as Taos, N.M.; Bristol, England; and Largs, Scotland.
But what causes the Hum, and why it only affects a small percentage of the population in certain areas, remain a mystery, despite a number of scientific investigations. [The Top 10 Unexplained Phenomena]
Reports started trickling in during the 1950s from people who had never heard anything unusual before; suddenly, they were bedeviled by an annoying, low-frequency humming, throbbing or rumbling sound.
The cases seem to have several factors in common: Generally, the Hum is only heard indoors, and it's louder at night than during the day. It's also more common in rural or suburban environments; reports of a hum are rare in urban areas, probably because of the steady background noise in crowded cities.
Who hears the Hum?
Only about 2 percent of the people living in any given Hum-prone area can hear the sound, and most of them are ages 55 to 70, according to a 2003 study by acoustical consultant Geoff Leventhall of Surrey, England.
Most of the people who hear the Hum (sometimes referred to as "hearers" or "hummers") describe the sound as similar to a diesel engine idling nearby. And the Hum has driven virtually every one of them to the point of despair.
"It's a kind of torture; sometimes, you just want to scream," retiree Katie Jacques of Leeds, England, told the BBC. Leeds is one of several places in Great Britain where the Hum has recently appeared.
"It's worst at night," Jacques said. "It's hard to get off to sleep because I hear this throbbing sound in the background … You're tossing and turning, and you get more and more agitated about it."
Being dismissed as crackpots or whiners only exacerbates the distress for these complainants, most of whom have perfectly normal hearing. Sufferers complain of headaches, nausea, dizziness, nosebleeds and sleep disturbances. At least one suicide in the U.K. has been blamed on the Hum, the BBC reports.
The Hum zones
Bristol, England, was one of the first places on Earth where the Hum was reported. In the 1970s, about 800 people in the coastal city reported hearing a steady thrumming sound, which was eventually blamed on vehicular traffic and local factories working 24-hour shifts.
Another famous hum occurs near Taos, N.M. Starting in spring 1991, residents of the area complained of a low-level rumbling noise. A team of researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories and other regional experts were unable to identify the source of the sound.
Windsor, Ontario, is another Hum hotspot. Researchers from the University of Windsor and Western University in London, Ontario, were recently given a grant to analyze the Windsor Hum and determine its cause.
Researchers also have been investigating the Hum in Bondi, a seaside area of Sydney, Australia, for several years, to no avail. "It sends people around here crazy — all you can do is put music on to block it out. Some people leave fans on," one resident told the Daily Telegraph.
Back in the United States, the Kokomo Hum was isolated in a 2003 study financed by the Indiana city's municipal government. The investigation revealed that two industrial sites — one a Daimler Chrysler plant — were producing noise at specific frequencies. Despite noise-abatement measures, some residents continue to complain of the Hum.
What causes the Hum?
Most researchers investigating the Hum express some confidence that the phenomenon is real, and not the result of mass hysteria or hearers' hypochondria (or extraterrestrials beaming signals to Earth from their spaceships).
As in the case of the Kokomo Hum, industrial equipment is usually the first suspected source of the Hum. In one instance, Leventhall was able to trace the noise to a neighboring building's central heating unit.
Other suspected sources include high-pressure gas lines, electrical power lines, wireless communication devices or other sources. But only in a few cases has a Hum been linked to a mechanical or electrical source.
There's some speculation that the Hum could be the result of low-frequency electromagnetic radiation, audible only to some people. And there are verified cases in which individuals have particular sensitivities to signals outside the normal range of human hearing.
Medical experts are quick to point out that tinnitus (the perception of sound when no external noise is present) is a likely cause, but repeated testing has found that many hearers have normal hearing and no occurrences of tinnitus.
Environmental factors have also been blamed, including seismic activity such as microseisms — very faint, low-frequency earth tremors that can be generated by the action of ocean waves.
Other hypotheses, including military experiments and submarine communications, have yet to bear any fruit. For now, hearers of the Hum have to resort to white-noise machines and other devices to reduce or eliminate the annoying noise.
Leventhall, who recommends that some hearers turn to cognitive-behavioral therapy to relieve the symptoms caused by the Hum, isn't confident that the puzzle will be solved anytime soon.
"It's been a mystery for 40 years, so it may well remain one for a lot longer," Leventhall told the BBC.
But Zug Island is private property, patrolled by security guards, and at least one of the companies there has refused to give Novak access for his acoustical tests. In the interests of diplomacy, he wouldn’t tell me which company or companies barred him from the island, so I called the ones that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality monitors for air pollution on Zug, all of which are related to steelmaking. Only the two biggest said they knew anything about the Canadians' noise concerns. EES Coke, a subsidiary of DTE Energy, operates a facility on the island where coal is heated at high temperatures to produce an ingredient in steel. A DTE spokesperson told me the company doesn’t use any equipment capable of creating the vibrations that accompany the hum. A representative of U.S. Steel, which operates a steel mill on the island, told me the company is “aware that the community of Windsor believes that the hum is coming from Zug Island.” But, she said, “We don’t believe it is related to our operation.” She said U.S. Steel would consider requests to allow researchers into their facilities to look for the hum, depending upon “the request and the scope,” but wouldn’t say whether U.S. Steel was refusing Novak access.
This a pressing public health issue. It is not just some casual annoyance, claims Kohlhase. The resulting infrasonic sounds blanketing the region could result in widespread vibroacoustic disease — an occupational disease occurring from long-term exposure to large pressure amplitude and low frequency noise — the symptoms of which include those often described by Hum suffers: depression, mood swings, insomnia and other stress-induced pathologies.
The Hum may transition from unexplained mystery to unfortunate byproduct of modernity, a fixture of human geography like light pollution.
State and local governments may finally be paying attention. Worried about the potential behavioral effects of the Connecticut Hum, Kohlhase dispatched concerned emails to state and local health officials laying out his research. Kohlhase was so persistent that he contacted Connecticut State Police investigators almost six weeks after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, insisting that the Hum allegedly produced by nearby gas pipelines could have had something to do with Adam Lanza's behavior leading up to the shooting. While law enforcement officials field a flood of calls from conspiracy theorists and pranksters following any major incident, investigators deemed the information Kohlhase provided "appropriate" for inclusion in the 7,000 images, audio files, videos and documents released to the public.
"The reason that it could've affected Lanza is that sound and vibrations can have extremely subtle, detrimental affects on someone who's fragile minded," explains Kohlhase. "Imagine if you're mentally ill or have a brain tumor or are just, well, fragile of mind. I am absolutely not an expert, but if sound sensitivity is such a serious issue to those on the autism spectrum, perhaps extremely low frequency sounds can result in a pernicious effect." Kohlhase points to Aaron Alexis, the defense subcontractor who battled mental health issues and scrawled "My ELF Weapon" into the stock of his shotgun before killing 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013. "He told his psychiatrist he'd been chased by vibrations. Look at a map of instances like this, in Washington, or the Gabby Giffords shooting in Arizona, and I bet you'll see that each place coincides with a Hum cluster."
Here is the fundamental problem facing Hum sufferers around the world: believability. Scientific data and anecdotal experiences of the Hum vary so much from region the world that it's still unclear whether VLF and ELF waves are the source of it, let alone a catalyst for mass murder. The idea of a mysterious noise driving people to suicide has given birth to all kinds of pseudoscientific conjecture, making the phenomenon a favorite for conspiracy junkies who suspect foul play by some malicious government scheme (or UFOs, obviously). The World Hum, a site devoted to exploring the "mysterious phenomenon being heard by thousands around the world," is riddled with byzantine entries about UFOs crashing in Siberia.
MacPherson knows how insane it sounds. "There's a terrible irony to the vision of a conspiracy nut in a tinfoil hat, trying to keep the government from beaming thoughts into their heads," laughs MacPhearson, "since aluminum does protect against some electromagnetic radiation. This is why you don't put that stuff in the microwave."
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