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Audible Air Amplifies the Effects of Pollution

Scientists have created <em>sounds</em> from air pollution data that allow listeners to hear the striking differences and similarities between the air we breathe in America's most polluted city and remote pine forests.
September 13, 2012, 1pm PDT | Andrew Gorden
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California's cities are notoriously prone to air pollution, a symptom of the state's oil fields, industry, automobiles, and geography. Conversely, the towering Sierra Nevada Mountains are known for their crisp, clean mountain air and near-unlimited visibility. Now, Aaron Reuben and Gabriel Isaacman have created sounds from air samples analyzed by air pollution scientists at the University of California-Berkley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management that allows one to actually listen to what that air, and pollution, sounds like in diverse settings.

"We created sounds from air samples (atmospheric particulate matter collected on filters) by first using gas chromatography to separate the thousands of compounds in the air...and then using mass spectrometry, which gives us a unique "spectrum" for chemicals based on their structure, to identify the compounds and assign them tones," write Reuben and Isaacman. "You can actually hear the difference between the toxic air of a truck tunnel (clogged with diesel hydrocarbons and carcinogenic particulate matter) and the fragrant air of the High Sierras."

Take a listen to a series of audio files in the article and hear for yourself what pollution within the Caldecott Tunnel, notoriously polluted California cities, and even the High Sierras sounds like.

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Published on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 in The Atlantic
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