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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

This Lake Can Sing!

Air Date: Week of

Yellowstone Lake half frozen over (photo: 21708aud, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

For over a century, visitors have marveled at the unearthly sounds "like a vast pipe organ" near Yellowstone Lake as it freezes. Reporter Jennifer Jerrett has this audio postcard.


CURWOOD: Well, we visit another national park now - the oldest, and among the most iconic - Yellowstone, established by President Ulysses S. Grant back in 1872. The park covers nearly 3,500 square miles, and contains one of the largest high altitude lakes in North America, Yellowstone Lake. It's that lake we're headed for, as it's been the scene of a mystery to visitors for over a century.

In the winter the lake sings, though exactly why is uncertain. Scientists think it's caused by the ice expanding as it freezes. Some say it sounds like a vast pipe organ or the humming of a swarm of bees or the ringing of telegraph wires. Reporter Jennifer Jerrett got the chance to visit the lake with a guide who knows the place well.

SEFTON: I’m Bruce Sefton; I’m with the Maintenance Division, National Park Service, here in the Lake District. This is my 26th winter; every day’s fun.

The singing lake of Yellowstone National Park (photo: Yellowstone NPS)


We’re going to take you down to listen to the lake sing. Come on down!


Yeah, this doesn’t happen all the time; it’s fairly rare. So not many people hear this, ’cause if there’s even the tiniest bit of snow, the deal’s off, the sound’s all muffled.


As this stuff freezes and tightens, there’s movement underneath, so this crackle starts and the crack just goes, takes off.

Yellowstone Lake in winter (photo: Kyle Bradley, Creative Commons 3.0)


And you’ll hear this thing that’ll sound just like an F16 just coming right at you.


When the sun comes up it begins in earnest, when the sun goes down, it peters out. The activity’ll subside and stop, and be quiet.


Bruce Sefton at Yellowstone National Park (photo: Jenny Jerrett)

I’ve tried singing along but it just doesn’t work too well.


CURWOOD: That's Yellowstone National Park worker, Bruce Sefton who took reporter Jennifer Jerrett to the park's singing lake.

Jenny Jerrett (photo: Neal Herbert)




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