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Sound lands on Google Earth

Bernie Krause teaches the world to listen – not just to a few bird chirps, but the whole environmental symphony.

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In the living room of bioacoustician Bernie Krause's California wine country home, a reporter's click on a Google Earth computer image of Antarctica produces a sound so foreign, there seems no possible way it could emanate from this planet.

But Dr. Krause, who has spent the past 40 years collecting sounds from around the globe, explains that the clicks, chirps, and howling ethereal decrescendos are indeed from this planet: They're made by Weddell seals inhabiting the frozen continent's McMurdo Sound.

"You know what they're doing?" asks Krause, suddenly animated. "They're imitating thunderstorms at the equator." He explains the theory that the seals use their skulls to pick up the electrical energy of thunderstorms transmitted through the earth's magnetic field from half a world away.

"They're social animals," he says. "They do that over long stretches of open water."

The aquatic discourse is among the 30-plus sounds now available as "The Wild Soundscape Tour," a free add-on layer to Google Earth, the downloadable navigation tool that allows users to scan the planet using steerable satellite images. Through Krause's website, one can now not only see the Amazonian rain forest, but hear the monkeys, jaguars, birds, and musical frogs that call it home. The same goes for the inhabitants of the wild places of Zimbabwe, Costa Rica, Madagascar, Indonesia, and Yellowstone National Park, as well as the not-so-wild urban soundscapes of New York, London, Paris, and Lisbon.

"You can immediately hear a difference between the places," says 30 Proof Media creative director Jesse Evans, explaining that police sirens and even just the traffic set the cities apart. "Once you start paying attention to it, you hear it immediately," says Mr. Evans, who with his brother/partner, Sam Evans, created the sound-embedding program.


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