The “Seneca Guns” are mystifying residents of coastal North Carolina and scientists for more than 150 years.
Some scientists have been working on the mystery using seismic data to pinpoint the origin of these rattling booms and rumbling explosions. But according to their new findings presented at AGU 2020… the mystery continues 😉 !
What are the ‘Seneca Guns’?
The Origin of the name Seneca Guns isn’t from North Carolina, but from Lake Seneca in upstate New York where ominous booming sounds had been reported for centuries and were first described in 1850 by the writer James Fenimore Cooper in his short story “The Lake Gun.”
“It is a sound resembling the explosion of a heavy piece of artillery, that can be accounted for by none of the known laws of nature. […] The report is deep, hollow, distant and imposing. The lake seems to be speaking to the surrounding hills, which send back the echoes of its voice in accurate reply. No satisfactory theory has ever been broached to explain these noises,” wrote Cooper.
Meanwhile, coastal residents of North Carolina frequently report the mysterious booms, with explanations ranging from distant storms or earthquakes, to quarry blasts or even military exercises.
The new science about the Seneca Guns
To decipher the origin of these mysterious booming noises, the scientists combed through accounts dating back to 2013, to create a catalog of observations.
They then compared those incidents to data collected by the EarthScope Transportable Array, a network of 400 atmospheric sensors and seismographs, currently located in Alaska, but installed in North Carolina between 2013 and 2015.
Signals associated with booming varied from about 1 second to nearly 10 seconds, with the station near Cape Fear picking up the most prominent signals.
The Cape Fear region is also known for having numerous Seneca Gun incidents. However, the sensor array wasn’t dense enough to pinpoint where the signals were coming from, and more data will be required to trace these big bangs.
The Seneca Guns are not created by earthquakes
Though the Seneca Guns can cause ground shaking, the scientists didn’t find any earthquake records that coincided with the events, effectively ruling out ground shaking as the cause of these booms.
The Seneca Guns are an atmospheric phenomenon
“Generally speaking, we believe this is an atmospheric phenomenon — we don’t think it’s coming from seismic activity, we’re assuming it’s propagating through the atmosphere rather than the ground. The data I’ve most focused on in this project is infrasound data rather than seismic,” Bird said to Livescience.
One atmospheric explanation could be meteor fireballs. Another possibility could be events that originate in the ocean, such as the crash of very large waves or thunder far offshore.
Presumably, these are not all the same thing producing the booming sounds. Some military planes that fly in the area have broken the sound barrier, so some of the “gun” sounds may, in fact, be sonic booms.
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