Thaw sonification

Influence of snow melt on river dynamics

Image Credit: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

February 2021 brought the coldest weather (and best ski season) for 10 years to the highlands of Scotland. Much of this was due to Storm Darcy (the Beast from the East II) a low pressure weather system of cold air pushed from Russia and Eastern Europe. The geo narrative i explore in Thaw sonification is how precipitation, falling as snow is trapped on the hillsides as snow and ice during cold periods, then is sporadically and often dramatically discharged into our local rivers increasing the flow significantly as snow melts during thaw events. This brings risks of local flooding and boulder redistribution rerouting river channels and flow paths.

Audio demonstration of Thaw sonification: Ambience mix

River Feshie in February

During this sonification we pass from a cold snowy highland winter soundscape, through a warming thaw event that increases river flow, as we gradually open up into spring.

What we hear

00:00 - cold winter soundscape > river flowing in nature > wind sounds > distant rumble sounds > some whistle in the wind > crunching of snow to our right > cold crisp metallic sounds > more whistling of the cold wind > river sounds are continuing > ting of icy sounds coming from different places > 01:00

01:00 - initiation of thawing event > whistling of the cold wind > river continuing to flow along > timpani like deep sounds rumble in the distance > river flow is a little stronger with lapping sounds > ice squeaks and clinks floating around us > ice sucking sounds > 02:00

02:00 - increased flow due to snow melting > river is increasing in volume and urgency (2:09-2:15) > flow subsides then gets stronger again (02:35) > meanwhile the wind has become softer and warmer > 03:00

03:00 - arrival of spring > the soundscape feels wider and more open > we start to hear some birdsong > the wind is soft and expansive > several different bird species appear > the river flow appears broader > insects appear > the river increases again > 04:00

04:00 - spring is here in full force > the sound scape keeps broadening > we hear some animal scurrying sounds in the forest > bees are buzzing > the river and rumbling sounds gradually fade > we leave the river > 05:32

How i created this sonification

This soundtrack is based on a sonification of river height, river flow, and temperature measured over a period of just under two months from early february until late march 2021.

The data

Read about the scientific (and sonic) evidence for a snowmelt event in mid February 2021 and learn about the datasets used in this sonifications.

Sound recordings

To invoke the natural highlands environment, I used a suite of natural sounds as both ambience and as source samples to be modulated and processed by the data. Field recordings were made on location at the River Feshie site, as well as in other natural environments and were augmented by studio recordings see details here.