In recent times, the city of Reykjavik has been experiencing a heightened seismic activity, capturing the attention of both residents and scientists alike. This surge in earthquakes is linked to the potential eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano, located on the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland. As the ground rumbles beneath their feet, locals have been witnesses to a symphony of tremors, a reminder of the powerful forces lurking beneath the Earth’s surface.

The frequent earthquakes in Reykjavik serve as a vivid reminder of the dynamic nature of our planet. As magma rises beneath the surface, exerting pressure on the surrounding rocks, fractures and movements occur, resulting in seismic activity. These tremors act as precursors and indicators of the potential volcanic eruption, offering valuable insights into the volcanic processes unfolding beneath the Earth’s crust.

Sound of lava from the Fagradalsfjall volcano:

While the seismic events in Reykjavik may unnerve some, it is important to recognize the significance of this activity. Seismologists and geologists closely monitor these earthquakes to gather crucial data, such as their magnitude, depth, and epicenter, helping to assess the evolving volcanic situation and the potential for an eruption. This monitoring allows authorities to make informed decisions, ensuring the safety of residents and implementing necessary precautions.

The experience of ongoing earthquakes in Reykjavik showcases the close relationship between seismic activity and volcanic phenomena. It serves as a powerful reminder that our planet’s dynamic nature continually shapes the world we inhabit. As scientists, residents, and visitors closely observe the seismic symphony in Reykjavik, we gain a deeper appreciation for the intricate processes that unfold beneath the Earth’s surface and the need to respect and understand the powerful forces that shape our world.

Earthquakes, the powerful and often devastating geological events, have long captivated human curiosity. As we ponder the nature of these seismic phenomena, an intriguing question arises: Do we hear earthquakes? While seismic waves generated during an earthquake can produce sounds, understanding the relationship between seismic activity and audible sound requires a deeper exploration.

The Nature of Seismic Waves:

Seismic waves, the vibrations that propagate through the Earth’s crust during an earthquake, are not audible sound waves in the traditional sense. Rather, they are mechanical waves that traverse solid materials like rocks and soils. These waves are responsible for the shaking and movement that characterizes seismic events.

A “sound” of earthquake captured in 2021:

The Speed of Seismic Waves:

Seismic waves travel at varying speeds, depending on the type of wave and the materials through which they propagate. Generally, seismic waves propagate at velocities ranging from a few to several kilometers per second. In comparison, sound waves in the air travel at approximately 343 meters per second. Consequently, seismic waves move faster than the associated sounds they may generate.

Sound waves travel through a medium such as air and are detected by our ears, while seismic waves propagate through the Earth’s interior and are detected using specialized instruments. Both waves are forms of mechanical waves but differ in terms of their frequency range, medium of propagation, and the way they are sensed by humans.

When rocks experience stress and strain during an earthquake, they can fracture, break, or undergo other types of deformation. The sudden release of energy can lead to vibrations and movements within the rock mass, generating sound waves that propagate through the surrounding medium, such as air or other rocks. These vibrations and resulting sounds can be heard if they reach the human hearing range and if there is no significant attenuation or damping of the sound waves before they reach an observer.

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Seismic waves, as they propagate through the Earth’s interior, are typically below the threshold of human hearing. The frequencies of seismic waves are generally outside the range of human perception.

Even if a geophone or seismometer can detect and record the seismic waves, we cannot directly hear them as they are typically at frequencies below the threshold of human perception.

Seismic waves are often characterized by low frequencies, typically ranging from fractions of a hertz to several tens of hertz or more. These frequencies are generally below the range of human hearing, which is typically considered to be from around 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.

While seismometers can accurately measure and record the ground motion caused by seismic waves, converting them into electrical signals, those signals are typically not directly audible to humans. To make seismic data audible, it would need to be converted into an audible frequency range using special techniques or equipment. This process is often used in scientific presentations or to create sound representations of seismic events for artistic purposes.

So, while seismometers can detect and record seismic waves, we do not naturally perceive them as audible sounds without additional processing or conversion into the audible range.

Sounds Associated with Earthquakes:

While seismic waves themselves do not produce sounds, the movements and vibrations they induce can generate audible effects indirectly. As the ground trembles and fractures during the recent seismic activity in Reykjavik, another intriguing aspect comes into play—the audible sounds associated with the earth’s crust cracking and shifting. Objects and structures may collide or collapse, resulting in noises that can be heard. These sounds may include rumbling vibrations, cracking or grinding noises.

The Timing of Sound Perception:

When considering the timing of sound perception during an earthquake, it’s essential to note that seismic waves reach a listening location before any associated sounds arrive. By the time audible sounds associated with the earthquake become perceptible, the shaking and movement have typically already commenced. Therefore, sound serves as an aftermath of the seismic activity rather than an early warning.

Predictability and Seismic Monitoring:

Despite the potential for sounds related to an earthquake, accurately predicting when and where an earthquake will occur remains a significant scientific challenge. Scientists rely on seismological monitoring, geodetic measurements, and other methods to assess earthquake risk and study fault lines. However, the precise timing, magnitude, and location of earthquakes continue to elude precise prediction.


While seismic waves generated during an earthquake do not produce audible sounds themselves, the movements and vibrations they induce can result in sounds that are perceptible to human hearing. These sounds, associated with collapsing structures and ground movement, arrive after the seismic activity has already begun. Understanding the relationship between seismic waves and audible sounds contributes to our knowledge of earthquakes, highlighting the complex nature of these geological events.

As we continue to explore the captivating world of earthquakes, the sounds associated with seismic activity provide valuable insights into the dynamic forces shaping our planet’s crust. By delving deeper into the connection between seismic waves and audible sounds, we gain a better understanding of the multifaceted nature of these powerful events that shape our world.

Kaśka Paluch-Łukasiak/Noise From Iceland

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