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The Rideau Canal in Ottawa Monday Feb 23, 2015. The NCC is predicting a document breaking year because that the amount of job the Rideau Canal will certainly be open to skaters. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

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This winter, Postmedia’s Tom Spears looks at what provides our coldest season tick. It’s a collection we speak to The science of Winter, and today us ask why sound chin behaves in different way on a really cold day.

You are watching: Does sound travel better in cold air


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“Never tell a an enig on a cold day,” says David Phillips, that is atmosphere Canada’s an elderly climatologist and the country’s resident skilled in all things weather.


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Cold air slows down the rate of sound compared to warmth air. But it additionally makes sound travel farther.

Phillips likes to tell the story of Canada’s coldest recorded day, Feb. 3, 1947, when it reached -62.8 C in Snag, Yukon. Canada offered Fahrenheit at the time, for this reason the clippings from a 1947 newspaper display it down in the minus-80s.

People can hear their breath hissing as the moisture turned to ice crystals and also fell come the ground. Castle heard banging and also booming favor gunshots as the broadening ice cracked ~ above the White River.

But weirdly, castle could additionally hear voices from much away. Human being at the airport, more than six kilometres native town, could hear dogs barking in town. They could hear distant people’s conversations together well.


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Snag’s frigid day was severe version the what we likewise get on very cold winter days in Ottawa and elsewhere.

The cold air forms a dense, hefty mass the sits under at ground level. Waiting a tiny above that is actually warmer — a problem called a temperature inversion. And Tuesday morning right here was no exception: The early on morning temperature in ~ the Gatineau Airport was -23.4 C while it was -20.6 C higher up in ~ Ottawa’s international Airport.

Sound tide refract (or bend) indigenous air the is less thick toward air the is chillier and much more dense. This means sound waves dispersing out from who at soil level room refocused back down towards the ground. The sound adheres to a curving path, and it travels farther under those conditions.


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Those v a thirst because that mathematical explanations v sines and angles can look increase Snell’s Law, called Snell’s due to the fact that it was an initial described by a man named Ibn Sahl, and also later rediscovered and published by one named Descartes. Willebrord Snellius to be in between those two. (Oh, just look that up.) 

Snag had actually its own weather station on the document cold job in 1947, and weather officer Gordon Toole shown that Snag residents could eavesdrop ~ above a conversation several kilometres away once the temperature dropped.

Very cold days regularly have still air because that dense layer in ~ ground level isn’t relocating anywhere. That way there’s no completing noise indigenous wind, and also other sound are simpler to hear.

But this oddity in the motion of sound is a feature of summer together well.

If you have actually a summer cottage, you might have had the suffer of see visitors learn this the hard way. They head out on the lake, maybe in a boat, probably on a raft or a sandbar, and say other indiscreet, not understanding that sound also travels a surprisingly long means across the water.

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The same effect is in beat as during the winter. Even in July, the air temperature under at water level is cooler 보다 the air over it, and secrets called on the water have the right to be refracted ago down come listening ear on land.