Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/April 1875/The Atmosphere in Relation to Fog-Signaling II

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 6 April 1875  (1875) 
The Atmosphere in Relation to Fog-Signaling II
By John Tyndall
Last in series

II.—Action of Hail and Rain.

IN the first part of this article it was demonstrated that the optic transparency and acoustic transparency of our atmosphere were by no means necessarily coincident; that on days of marvelous optical clearness the atmosphere may be filled with impervious acoustic clouds, while days optically turbid may be acoustically clear. We have now to consider, in detail, the influence of various agents which have hitherto been considered potent in reference to the transmission of sound through the atmosphere.

Derham, and after him all other writers, considered that falling rain tended powerfully to obstruct sound. An observation on June 3d has been already referred to as tending to throw doubt on this conclusion. Two other crucial instances will suffice to show its untenability. On the morning of October 8th, at 7.45 a. m., a thunder-storm, accompanied by heavy rain, broke over Dover. But the clouds subsequently cleared away, and the sun shone strongly on the sea. For a time the optical clearness of the atmosphere was extraordinary, but it was acoustically opaque. At 2.30 p. m. a densely black scowl again overspread the heavens to the west-southwest. The distance being 6 miles, and all hushed on board, the horn was heard very feebly, the siren more distinctly, while the howitzer was better than either, though not much superior to the siren.

A squall approached us from the west. In the Alps or elsewhere I have rarely seen the heavens blacker. Vast cumuli floated to the northeast and southeast; vast streamers of rain descended in the west-northwest; huge scrolls of cloud hung in the north; but spaces of blue were to be seen to the north-northeast.

At 7 miles' distance the siren and horn were both feeble, while the guns sent us a very faint report. A dense shower now enveloped the Foreland.

The rain at length reached us; falling heavily all the way between us and the Foreland. But the sound, instead of being deadened, rose perceptibly in power. Hail was now added to the rain, and the shower reached a tropical violence, the hailstones floating thickly on the flooded deck. In the midst of this furious squall both the horns and the siren were distinctly heard; and as the shower lightened, thus lessening the local pattering, the sounds so rose in power that we heard them at a distance of 712 miles distinctly louder than they had been heard through the rainless atmosphere of 5 miles.

At 4 p. m. the rain had ceased, and the sun shone clearly through the calm air. At 9 miles' distance the horn was heard feebly, the siren clearly, while the howitzer sent us a loud report. All the sounds were better heard at this distance than they had previously been at 512 miles; from which, by the law of inverse squares, it follows that the intensity of the sound at 512 miles' distance must have been augmented at least threefold by the descent of the rain.

On the 23d of October, our steamer had forsaken us for shelter, and I sought to turn the weather to account by making other observations on both sides of the fog-signal station. Mr. Douglas, the chief-engineer of the Trinity House, was good enough to undertake the observations northeast of the Foreland; while Mr. Ayres, the assistant engineer, walked in the other direction. At 12.50 p. m. the wind blew a gale, and broke into a thunder-storm with violent rain. Inside and outside of the Cornhill Coast-guard Station, a mile from the instruments, in the direction of Dover, Mr. Ayres heard the sound of the siren through the storm; and, after the rain had ceased, all sounds were heard distinctly louder than before. Mr. Douglas had sent a fly before him to Kingsdown, and the driver had been waiting for fifteen minutes before he arrived. During this time no sound had been heard, though forty blasts had been blown in the interval; nor had the coast-guard man on duty, a practised observer, heard any of them throughout the day. During the thunder-storm, and while the rain was actually falling with a violence which Mr. Douglas describes as perfectly torrential, the sounds became audible, and were heard by all.

To rain, in short, I have never been able to trace the slightest deadening influence upon sound. The reputed barrier offered by "thick weather" to the passage of sound was one of the causes which tended to produce hesitation in establishing sound-signals on our coasts. It is to be hoped that the removal of this error may redound to the advantage of coming generations of seafaring men.


Action of Snow.—Falling snow, according to Derham, is the most serious obstacle of all to the transmission of sound. We did not extend our observations at the South Foreland into snowy weather; but a previous observation of my own bears directly upon this point. On Christmas-night, 1859, I arrived at Chamouni, through snow so deep as to obliterate the road-fences, and to render the labor of reaching the village arduous in the extreme. On the 26th and 27th it fell heavily. On the 27th, during a lull in the storm, I reached the Montanvert, sometimes breast-deep in snow. On the 28th, with great difficulty, two lines of stakes were set out across the glacier, with the view of determining its winter motion. On the 29th, the entry in my journal, written in the morning, is, "Snow, heavy snow; it must have descended through the entire night, the quantity freshly fallen is so great."

Under these circumstances I planted my theodolite beside the Mer de Glace, having waded to my position through snow which, being dry, reached nearly to my breast. Assistants were sent across the glacier with instructions to measure the displacement of a transverse line of stakes planted previously in the snow. A storm drifted up the valley, darkening the air as it approached. It reached us, the snow falling more heavily than I had ever seen it elsewhere. It soon formed a heap on the theodolite, and thickly covered my own clothes. Here, then, was a combination of snow in the air, and of soft, fresh snow on the ground, such as Derham could hardly have enjoyed; still through such an atmosphere I was able to make my instructions audible quite across the glacier, the distance being half a mile, while the experiment was rendered reciprocal by one of my assistants making his voice audible to me.

The flakes here were so thick that it was only at intervals that I was able to pick up the retreating forms of the men. Still the air through which the flakes fell was continuous. Did the flakes merely yield passively to the sonorous waves, swinging, like the particles of air themselves, to and fro as the sound-waves passed them? Or did the waves bend by diffraction round the flakes, and emerge from them without sensible loss? Experiment will aid us here by showing the astonishing facility with which sound makes its way among obstacles, and passes through tissues, so long as the continuity of the air in their interstices is preserved.

A piece of mill-board or of glass, a plank of wood, or the hand, placed across the open end t' of the tunnel a b c d (see page 689), intercepts the sound of the bell, placed in the padded box P, and stills the sensitive flame k (described in the last article).

An ordinary cambric pocket-handkerchief, on the other hand, stretched across the tunnel-end produced hardly an appreciable effect upon the sound. Through two layers of the handkerchief the flame was strongly agitated; through four layers it was still agitated; while through six layers, though nearly stilled, it was not entirely so.

Dipping the same handkerchief into water, and stretching a single wetted layer across the tunnel-end, it stilled the flame as effectually as the mill-board or the wood. Hence the conclusion that the sound-waves in the first instance passed through the interstices of the cambric.

Through a single layer of thin silk the sound passed without sensible interruption; through six layers the flame was strongly agitated; while through twelve layers the agitation was quite perceptible.

A single layer of this silk, when wetted, stilled the flame.

A layer of soft lint produced but little effect upon the sound; a layer of thick flannel was almost equally ineffectual. Through four layers of flannel the flame was perceptibly agitated. Through a single layer of green baize the sound passed almost as freely as through air; through four layers of the baize the action was still sensible. Through a layer of close hard felt, half an inch thick, the sound-waves passed with sufficient energy to sensibly agitate the flame. I did not witness these effects without astonishment.

A single layer of thin oiled-silk stopped the sound and stilled the flame. A single layer of gold-beater's-skin did the same. A leaf of common note-paper, or even of foreign post, stopped the sound.

The sensitive flame is not absolutely necessary to these experiments. Let a ticking watch be hung six inches from the ear, a cambric handkerchief dropped between it and the ear scarcely sensibly affects the ticking, a sheet of oil-skin or an intensely heated gas column cuts it almost wholly off.

But, though oiled-silk, foreign post, and even gold-beater's-skin can stop the sound, a film sufficiently thin to yield freely to the aërial pulses transmits it. A thick soap-film produces an obvious effect upon the sensitive flame, a very thin one does not. The augmentation

PSM V06 D709 Sound transmission effects instrument.jpg
Apparatus for showing the influence of a non-homogenous Atmosphere on the transmission of sound.

of the transmitted sound may be observed simultaneously with the generation and brightening of the colors which indicate the increasing thinness of the film. A very thin collodion-film acts in the same way.

Acquainted with the foregoing facts regarding the passage of sound through cambric, silk, lint, flannel, baize, and felt, the reader is prepared for the statement that the sound-waves pass without sensible impediment through heavy artificial showers of rain, hail, and snow. Water-drops, seeds, sand, bran, and flocculi of various kinds, have been employed to form such showers: through all of these, as through the actual rain and hail already described, and through the snow on the Mer de Glace, the sound passes without sensible obstruction.


Action of Fog: Observations in London.—But the mariner's greatest enemy, fog, is still to be dealt with; and here for a long time the proper conditions of experiment were absent. Up to the end of November we had had frequent days of haze, sufficiently thick to obscure the white cliffs of the Foreland, but no real fog. Still those cases furnished demonstrative evidence that the notions entertained regarding the reflection of sound by suspended particles were wrong; for on many days of the thickest haze the sound covered twice the range attained on other days of perfect optical transparency. Such instances dissolved the association hitherto assumed to exist between acoustic transparency and optic transparency, but they left the action of dense fogs undetermined.

On December 9th a memorable fog settled down on London. I addressed a telegram to the Trinity House suggesting some gun-observations. With characteristic promptness came the reply that they would be made in the afternoon at Blackwall. I went to Greenwich in the hope of hearing the guns across the river; but the delay of the train by the fog rendered my arrival too late. Over the river the fog was very dense, and through it came various sounds with great distinctness. The signal-bell of an unseen barge rang clearly out at intervals, and I could plainly hear the hammering at Cubitt's Town, half a mile away, on the opposite side of the river. No deadening of the sound by the fog was apparent.

Through this fog and various local noises, Captain Atkins and Mr. Edwards heard the report of a 12-pounder cannonade with a 1-lb. charge distinctly better than the 18-pounder with a 3-lb. charge, an optically clear atmosphere, and all noise absent, on July 3d.

Anxious to turn to the best account a phenomenon for which we had waited so long, I tried to grapple with the problem by experiments on a small scale. On the 10th I stationed my assistant with a whistle and organ-pipe on the walk below the southwest end of the bridge dividing Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens. From the eastern end of the Serpentine I heard distinctly both the whistle and the pipe, which produced 380 waves a second. On changing places with my assistant, I heard for a time the distinct blast of the whistle only. The deeper note of the organ-pipe at length reached me, rising sometimes to great distinctness, and sometimes falling to inaudibility. The whistle showed the same intermittence as to period, but in an opposite sense; for when the whistle was faint the pipe was strong, and vice versa. To obtain the fundamental note of the pipe it had to be blown gently, and on the whole the whistle proved the most efficient in piercing the fog.

An extraordinary amount of sound filled the air during these experiments. The resonant roar of the Bayswater and Knightsbridge roads; the clangor of the great bell of Westminster; the railway-whistles, which were frequently blown, and the fog-signals exploded at the various metropolitan stations, were all heard with extraordinary intensity. This could by no means be reconciled with the statements so categorically made regarding the acoustic impenetrability of a London fog.

On the 11th of December, the fog being denser than before, I heard every blast of the whistle, and occasional blasts of the pipe, over the distance between the bridge and the eastern end of the Serpentine. On joining my assistant at the bridge, the loud concussion of a gun was heard by both of us. A police-inspector affirmed that it came from Woolwich, and that he had heard several shots about 2 p. m. and previously. The fact, if a fact, was of the highest importance; so I immediately telegraphed to Woolwich for information. Prof. Abel kindly furnished me with the following particulars:

"The firing took place at 1.40 p. m. The guns proved were of comparatively small size 64-pounders, with 10-lb. charges of powder.
"The concussion experienced at my house and office, about three-quarters of a mile from the butt, was decidedly more severe than that experienced when the heaviest guns are proved with charges of 110 to 120 lbs. of powder. There was a dense fog here at the time of firing."

These were the reports heard by the police-inspector; on subsequent inquiry it was ascertained that two guns were fired at about 3 p. m. These were the guns heard by myself.

Prof. Abel also communicated to me the following fact:

"Our workman's bell at the arsenal-gate, which is of moderate size and any thing but clear in tone, is pretty distinctly heard by Prof. Bloxam only when the wind is northeast. During the whole of last week the bell was heard with great distinctness, the wind being southwesterly (opposed to the sound). The distance of the bell from Bloxam's house is about three-quarters of a mile as the crow flies."

Assuredly no question of science ever stood so much in need of revision as this of the transmission of sound through the atmosphere. Slowly but surely we mastered the question; and the further we advanced the more plainly it appeared that our reputed knowledge regarding it was erroneous from beginning to end.

On the morning of the 12th the fog attained its maximum density. It was not possible to read at my window, which fronted the open western sky. At 10.30 I sent an assistant to the bridge, and listened for his whistle and pipe at the eastern end of the Serpentine. The whistle rose to a shrillness far surpassing any thing previously heard, but it sank sometimes almost to inaudibility; proving that, though the air was on the whole highly homogeneous, acoustic clouds still drifted through the fog. A second pipe, which was quite inaudible yesterday, was plainly heard this morning. We were able to discourse across the Serpentine to-day with much greater ease than yesterday.

During our summer observations, I had once or twice been able to fix the position of the Foreland in thick haze by the direction of the sound. To-day my assistant, hidden by the fog, walked up to the Watermen's Boat-House sounding his whistle; and I walked along the opposite side of the Serpentine, clearly appreciating for a time that the line joining us was oblique to the axis of the river. Coming to a point which seemed to be exactly abreast of him, I marked it, and on the following day, when the fog had cleared away, the marked position was found to be perfectly exact. When undisturbed by echoes, the ear, with a little practice, becomes capable of fixing with great precision the direction of a sound.

On reaching the Serpentine this morning, a peal of bells, which then began to ring, seemed so close at hand that it required some reflection to convince me that they were ringing to the north of Hyde Park. The sounds fluctuated wonderfully in power. Prior to the striking of eleven by the great bell of Westminster, a nearer bell struck with loud clangor. The first five strokes of the Westminster bell were afterward heard, one of them being extremely loud; but the last six strokes were inaudible. An assistant was stationed to attend to the twelve-o'clock bells. The clock which had struck so loudly at eleven was unheard at twelve, while of the Westminster bell eight strokes out of twelve were inaudible. To such astonishing changes is the atmosphere liable.

At 7 p. m. the Westminster bell striking seven was not at all heard from the Serpentine, while the nearer bell already alluded to was heard distinctly. The fog had cleared away, and the lamps on the bridge could be seen from the eastern end of the Serpentine burning brightly; but, instead of the sound sharing the improvement of the light, what might be properly called an acoustic fog took the place of its optical predecessor. Several series of the whistle and organ-pipe were sounded in succession; one series only of the whistle-sounds was heard, all the others being quite inaudible. Three series of the organ-pipe were heard, but exceedingly faintly. On reversing the positions and sounding as before, nothing whatever was heard.

At eight o'clock the chimes and hour-bell of the Westminster clock were both very loud. The "acoustic fog" had shifted its position or temporarily melted away.

Extraordinary fluctuations were also observed in the case of the church-bells heard in the morning; in a few seconds they would sink from a loudly-ringing peal into utter silence, from which they would rapidly return to loud-tongued audibility. The intermittent drifting of fog over the sun's disk, by which his light is at times obscured, at times revealed, is the optical analogue of these effects. As regards such changes, the acoustic deportment of the atmosphere is a true transcript of its optical deportment.

At 9 p. m. three strokes only of the Westminster clock were heard; the others were inaudible. The air had relapsed in part into its condition at 7 p. m., when all the strokes were heard.

The quiet of the park this evening, as contrasted with the resonant roar which filled the air on the two preceding days, was very remarkable. The sound, in fact, was stifled in the optically clear but acoustically flocculent atmosphere.

On the 13th the fog being displaced by thin haze, I went again to the Serpentine. The carriage-sounds were damped to an extraordinary degree. The roar of the Knightsbridge and Bayswater roads had subsided, the tread of troops which passed us a little way off was unheard, while at 11 a. m. both the chimes and the hour-bell of the Westminster clock were stifled. Subjectively considered, all was favorable to auditory impressions; but the very cause that damped the local noises extinguished our experimental sounds. The voice across the Serpentine to-day, with my assistant plainly visible in front of me, was distinctly feebler than it had been when each of us was hidden from the other in the densest fog.

Placing the source of sound at the eastern end of the Serpentine, I walked along its edge from the bridge toward the end. The distance between these two points is about 1,000 paces. After five hundred of them had been stepped, the sound was not so distinct as it had been at the bridge on the day of densest fog; hence, by the law of inverse squares, the optical cleansing of the air through the melting away of the fog had so darkened it acoustically, that a sound generated at the eastern end of the Serpentine was lowered to one-fourth of its intensity at a point midway between the end and the bridge.

To these demonstrative observations one or two subsequent ones may be added. On several of the moist and warm days at the beginning of this year I stood at noon beside the railing of St. James's Park, near Buckingham Palace, three-quarters of a mile from the clock-tower, which was clearly visible. Not a single stroke of "Big Ben" was heard. On January 19th, fog and drizzling rain obscured the tower; still from the same position I not only heard the strokes of the great bell, but also the chimes of the quarter-bells.

During the exceedingly dense and "dripping" fog of January 22d, from the same railings, I heard every stroke of the bell. At the end of the Serpentine, when the fog was densest, the Westminster bell was heard striking loudly eleven. Toward evening this fog began to melt away, and at six o'clock I went to the end of the Serpentine to observe the effect of the optical clearing upon the sound. Not one of the strokes reached me. At nine o'clock and at ten o'clock my assistant was in the same position, and on both occasions he failed to hear a single stroke of the bell. It was a case precisely similar to that of December 13th, when the dissolution of the fog was accompanied by a decided acoustic thickening of the air.[1]


Observations at the South Foreland.—Satisfactory and indeed conclusive as these results seemed, I desired exceedingly to confirm them by experiments with the instruments actually employed at the South Foreland. On the 10th of February I had the gratification of receiving the following note and inclosure from the deputy-master of Trinity House:

"My dear Tyndall: The inclosed will show how accurately your views have been verified, and I send them on at once without waiting for the details. I think you will be glad to have them, and as soon as I get the report it shall be sent to you. I made up my mind ten days ago that there would be a chance in the light foggy-disposed weather at home, and therefore sent the Argus off at an hour's notice, and requested the Fog Committee to keep one member on board. On Friday I was so satisfied that the fog would occur that I sent Edwards down to record the observations....

"Very truly yours, Fred. Arrow."

The inclosure referred to was notes from Captain Atkins and Mr. Edwards. Captain Atkins writes thus:

"As arranged, I came down here by the mail express, meeting Mr. Edwards at Cannon Street. We put up at the Dover Castle, and next morning at seven I was awoke by the sounds of the siren. On jumping up I discovered that the long-looked-for fog had arrived, and that the Argus had left her moorings.

"However, had I been on board, the instructions I left with Troughton (the master of the Argus) could not have been better carried out. About noon the fog cleared up and the Argus returned to her moorings, when I learned that they had taken both siren and horn sounds to a distance of 11 miles from the station, where they dropped a buoy. This I know to be correct, as I have this morning recovered the buoy, and the distances both in and out agree with Troughton's statement. I have also been to the Varne light-ship (1234 miles from the Foreland), and ascertained that during the fog of Saturday forenoon they ' distinctly ' heard the sounds."

Mr. Edwards, who was constantly at my side during our summer and autumn observations, and who is thoroughly competent to form a comparative estimate of the strength of the sounds, states that the sounds were "extraordinarily loud," both Captain Atkins and himself being awoke by them. He does not remember ever before hearing the sounds so loud in Dover; it seemed as though the observers were close to the instruments.

Other days of fog preceded this one, and they were all days of acoustic transparency, the day of densest fog being acoustically the clearest of all.

The results here recorded are of the highest importance, for they bring us face to face with a dense fog and an actual fog-signal, and confirm in the most conclusive manner the previous observations. The fact of Captain Atkins and Mr. Edwards being awakened by the siren proves, beyond all our previous experience, its power during the fog on the 7th of February.

It is exceedingly interesting to compare the transmission of sound on February 7th with its transmission on October 14th. The wind on both days had the same strength and direction. My notes of the observations show the latter to have been throughout a day of extreme optical clearness. The range was 10 miles. During the fog of February 7th, the Argus heard the sound at 11 miles; and it was also heard at the Varne light-vessel, which is 1234 miles from the Foreland.

It is also worthy of note that through the same fog the sounds were well heard at the South Sand Head light-vessel, which is in the opposite direction from the South Foreland, and actually behind the siren. For this important circumstance is to be borne in mind: on February 7th the siren happened to be pointed, not toward the Argus, but toward Dover. Had the yacht been in the axis of the instrument, it is highly probable that the sound would have been heard all the way across to the coast of France.

It is hardly necessary for me to say a word to guard myself against the misconception that I consider sound to be assisted by the fog itself. The fog-particles have no more influence upon the waves of sound than the suspended particles stirred up over the banks of Newfoundland have upon the waves of the Atlantic. A homogeneous air is the usual associate of fog, and hence the acoustic clearness of foggy weather.


Experiments on Artificial Fogs.—These observations are clinched and finished by being brought within the range of laboratory experiment. Here we shall learn incidentally a lesson as to the caution required from an experimenter.

The smoke from smouldering brown paper was allowed to stream upward into the tunnel a b c d (see p. 689); the action upon the sound-waves was strong, rendering the short and agitated sensitive flame k tall and quiescent. Here the action of the smoke seemed clearly demonstrated.

Air, first passed through ammonia, then through hydrochloric acid, and thus loaded with thick fumes, was sent into the tunnel; the agitated flame was rendered immediately quiescent, indicating a very decided action on the part of the artificial fog.

Air passed through perchloride of tin and sent into the tunnel produced exceedingly dense fumes. The action of the fog upon the sound-waves was very strong.

The dense smoke of resin, burnt before the open end of the tunnel and blown into it with a pair of bellows, had also the effect of stopping the sound-waves, so as to still the agitated flame.

The result seems clear; and it perfectly harmonizes with the prevalent a priori notions as to the action of fog upon sound. But caution is here necessary; for the smoke of the brown paper was hot; the flask containing the hydrochloric acid was hot; that containing the perchloride of tin was hot; while the resin-fumes produced by a red-hot poker were also obviously hot. Were the results, then, due to the fumes or to the differences of temperature? The observations might well have proved a trap to an incautious reasoner.

Instead of the smoke and heated air, the heated air alone from four red-hot pokers was permitted to stream upward into the tunnel; the action on the sound-waves was very decided, though the tunnel was optically empty. The flame of a candle was placed at the tunnel-end, and the hot air just above its tip was blown into the tunnel; the action on the sensitive flame was decided. A similar effect was produced when the air, ascending from a red-hot iron, was blown into the tunnel.

In these latter cases the tunnel remained optically clear, while the same effect as that produced by the resin—smoke and fumes—was observed. Clearly, then, we are not entitled to ascribe, without further investigation, to the artificial fog an effect which may have been due to the air which accompanied it.

Having eliminated the fog and proved the non-homogeneous air effective, our reasoning will be completed by eliminating the heat, and proving the fog ineffective.

Instead of the tunnel a b c d (see p. 689), a cupboard with glass sides, three feet long, two feet wide, and about five feet high, was filled with fumes of various kinds. Here it was thought the fumes might remain long enough for differences of temperature to disappear. Two apertures were made in two opposite panes of glass three feet asunder; in front of one aperture was placed the bell in its padded box and behind the other aperture, and at some distance from it, the sensitive flame.

Phosphorus placed in a cup floating on water was ignited within the closed cupboard. The fumes were so dense that considerably less than the three feet traversed by the sound extinguished totally a bright candle-flame. At first there was a slight action upon the sound; but this rapidly vanished, the flame being affected exactly as if the sound passed through pure air. The first action was manifestly due to differences of temperature, and disappeared when the temperature was equalized.

The cupboard was next filled with the dense fumes of gunpowder. At first there was a slight action; but this disappeared even more rapidly than in the case of the phosphorus, the sound passing as if no fumes were there. It required less than half a minute to abolish the action in the case of the phosphorus, but a few seconds sufficed in the case of the gunpowder. The fumes were far more than sufficient to quench the candle-flame.

The dense smoke of resin, when the temperature had become equable, exerted no action on the sound.

The fumes of gum-mastic were equally ineffectual.

The fumes of the perchloride of tin, though of extraordinary density, exerted no sensible effect upon the sound.

Exceedingly dense fumes of chloride of ammonium next filled the cupboard. A fraction of the length of the three-foot tube sufficed to quench the candle-flame. Soon after the cupboard was filled, the sound passed without the least sensible deterioration. An aperture at the top of the cupboard was opened; but, though a dense smoke-column ascended through it, many minutes elapsed before the candle-flame could be seen through the attenuated fog.

Steam from a copper boiler was so copiously admitted into the cupboard as to fill it with a dense cloud. No real cloud was ever so dense; still the sound passed through it without the least sensible diminution. This being the case, cloud-echoes are not a likely phenomenon.

In all of these cases, when a couple of Bunsen's burners were ignited within the cupboard containing the fumes, less than a minute's action rendered the air so heterogeneous that the sensitive flame was completely stilled.

These acoustically inactive fogs were subsequently proved competent to cut off the electric light.

Experiment and observation go, therefore, hand-in-hand in demonstrating that fogs have no sensible action upon sound; the notion of their impenetrability which so powerfully retarded the introduction of phonic coast-signals being thus abolished, we have solid ground for the hope that disasters due to fogs and thick weather will, in the future, be materially mitigated.


Action of Wind.—In stormy weather we were frequently forsaken by our steamer, which had to seek shelter in the Downs or Margate Roads, and on such occasions the opportunity was turned to account to determine the effect of the wind. On October 11th, accompanied by Mr. Douglas and Mr. Edwards, I walked along the cliffs to Dover Castle toward the Foreland, the wind blowing strongly against the sound. On the Dover side, and at about a mile and a half from the Foreland, we first heard the faint but distinct sound of the siren. The horn-sound was inaudible. A gun fired during our halt was also unheard.

As we approached the Foreland we saw the smoke of the gun. Mr. Edwards heard a faint crack, but neither Mr. Douglas nor I heard any thing. The sound of the siren was, at the same time, of piercing intensity. We waited for ten minutes, when another gun was fired. The smoke was at hand, and I thought I heard a faint thud, but could not be certain. My companions heard nothing. On pacing the distance afterward, we were found to be only 550 yards from the gun. We were shaded at the time by a slight eminence from both the siren and the gun, but this could not account for the utter extinction of the gun-sound at so short a distance, and at a time when the siren sent to us a note of great power.

Mr. Ayres, at my request, walked to windward along the cliff, while Mr. Douglas proceeded to St. Margaret's Bay. During their absence I had three guns fired. Mr. Ayres heard only one of them. Favored by the wind, Mr. Douglas, at twice the distance, and far more deeply immersed in the sound-shadow, heard all three reports with the utmost distinctness.

Joining Mr. Douglas, we continued our walk to a distance of three- quarters of a mile beyond St. Margaret's Bay. Here, being dead to leeward, though the wind blew with unabated violence, the sound of the siren was borne to us with extraordinary power.[2] In this position we also heard the gun loudly, and two other loud reports at the proper interval of ten minutes, as we returned to the Foreland.

It is within the mark to say that the gun to-day was heard five times, and might have been heard fifteen times as far to leeward as to windward.

In windy weather the shortness of its sound is a serious drawback to the use of a gun as a signal. In the case of the horn and siren, time is given for the attention to be fixed upon the sound ; and a single puff, while cutting out a portion of the blast, does not obliterate it wholly. Such a puff, however, may be fatal to the momentary gun-sound.

On the leeward side of the Foreland, on the 23d, the sounds were heard at least four times as far as on the windward side, while in both directions the siren possessed the greatest penetrative power.

On the 24th the wind shifted to east-southeast, and the sounds, which, when the wind was west-southwest, failed to reach Dover, were now heard in the streets through thick rain. On the 27th the wind was east-northeast. In our writing-room, in the Lord Warden Hotel, in the bedrooms, and on the staircase, the sound of the siren reached us with surprising power, piercing through the whistling and moaning of the wind, which blew through Dover toward Folkestone. The sounds w r ere heard at 6 miles from the Foreland on the Folkestone road, and, had the instruments not then ceased sounding, they might have been heard much farther. At the South Sand Head light-vessel, 334 miles on the opposite side, no sound had been heard throughout the day. On the 28th, the wind being north by east, the sounds were heard in the middle of Folkestone, 8 miles off, while in the opposite direction they failed to reach 334 miles. On the 29th the limits of range were Eastware Bay on the one side, and Kingsdown on the other; on the 30th the limits were Kingsdown on the one hand, and Folkestone Pier on the other. With a wind having a force of 4 or 5, it was a very common observation to hear the sound in one direction three times as far as in the other.

This well-known effect of the wind is exceedingly difficult to explain. Indeed, the only explanation worthy of the name is one offered by Prof. Stokes, and suggested by some remarkable observations by De la Roche. In vol. i. of the "Annales de Chemie" for 1816, p. 176, Arago introduces De la Roche's memoir in these words: "L'auteur arrive à des conclusions, qui d'abord pourront paraître paradoxales, mais ceux qui savent combien il mettait de soins et d'exactitude dans toutes ses recherches se garderont sans doute d'opposer une opinion populaire a des expériences positives." The strangeness of De la Roche's results consisted in his establishing, by quantitative measurements, not only that sound has a greater range in the direction of the wind than in the opposite direction, but that the range at right angles to the wind is the maximum.

In a short but exceedingly able communication presented to the British Association in 1857, the eminent physicist above-mentioned points out a cause which, if sufficient, would account for the results referred to. The lower atmospheric strata are retarded by friction against the earth, and the upper ones by those immediately below them; the velocity of translation, therefore, in the case of wind, increases from the ground upward. This difference of velocity tilts the sound-wave upward in a direction opposed to, and downward in a direction coincident with, the wind. In this latter case the direct wave is reenforced by the wave reflected from the earth. Now, the reënforcement is greatest in the direction in which the direct and reflected waves inclose the smallest angle, and this is at right angles to the direction of the wind. Hence the greater range in this direction. It is not, therefore, according to Prof. Stokes, a stifling of the sound to windward, but a tilting of the sound-wave over the heads of the observers that defeats the propagation in that direction.

This explanation calls for verification, and I wished much to test it by means of a captive balloon rising high enough to catch the deflected wave; but, on communicating with Mr. Coxwell, who has earned for himself so high a reputation as an aëronaut, and who has always shown himself so willing to promote a scientific object, I learned with regret that the experiment was too dangerous to be carried out.[3]


Atmospheric Selection. — It has been stated that the atmosphere on different days shows preferences to different sounds. This point is worthy of further illustration.

After the violent shower which passed over us on October 18th, the sounds of all the instruments, as already stated, rose in power; but it was noticed that the horn-sound, which was of lower pitch than that of the siren, improved most, at times not only equaling but surpassing the sound of its rival. From this it might be inferred that the atmospheric change produced by the rain favored more especially the transmission of the longer sonorous waves.

But our programme enabled us to go further than mere inference. It had been arranged on the day mentioned, that up to 3.30 p. m. the siren should perform 2,400 revolutions a minute, generating 480 waves a second. As long as this rate continued, the horn, alter the shower, had the advantage. The rate of rotation was then changed to 2,000 a minute, or 400 waves a second, when the siren-sound immediately surpassed that of the horn. A clear connection was thus established between aerial reflection and the length of the sonorous waves.

The 10-inch Canadian whistle being capable of adjustment so as to produce sounds of different pitch, on the 10th of October I ran through a series of its sounds. The shrillest appeared to possess great intensity and penetrative power. The belief is common that a note of this character (which affects so powerfully, and even painfully, an observer close at hand) has also the greatest range. Mr. A. Gordon, in his examination before the Committee on Light-houses, in 1854, expressed himself thus: "When you get a shrill sound, high in the scale, that sound is carried much farther than a lower note in the scale." I have heard the same opinion expressed by other scientific men.

On the 14th of October the point was submitted to an experimental test. It had been arranged that up to 11.30 a. m. the Canadian whistle, which had been heard with such piercing intensity on the 10th, should sound its shrill note. At the hour just mentioned we were beside the Varne buoy, 734 miles from the Foreland. The siren, as we approached the buoy, was heard through the paddle-noises; the horns were also heard, but more feebly than the siren. We paused at the buoy and listened for the 11.30 gun. Its boom was heard by all. Neither before nor during the pause was the shrill-sounding Canadian whistle once heard. It was now adjusted to produce its ordinary low-pitched note, which was immediately heard. Still farther out the low boom of the cannon continued audible after all the other sounds had ceased.

But it was only during the early part of the day that this preference for the longer waves was manifested. At 3 p. m. the case was completely altered, for then the high-pitched siren was heard when all the other sounds were inaudible. On many other days we had illustrations of the varying comparative power of the siren and the gun. On the 9th of October, sometimes the one, sometimes the other was predominant. On the morning of the 13th the siren was clearly heard on Shakespeare's Cliff, while two guns, with their puffs perfectly visible, were unheard. On October 16th, two miles from the signal-station, the gun at eleven o'clock was inferior to the siren, but both were heard. At 12.30, the distance being 6 miles, the gun was quite unheard, while the siren continued faintly audible. Later on in the day the experiment was twice repeated. The puff of the gun was in each case seen, but nothing was heard; in the last experiment, when the gun was quenched, the siren sent forth a sound so strong as to maintain itself through the paddle-noises. The day was clearly hostile to the passage of the longer sonorous waves.

October 17th began with a preference for the shorter waves. At 11.30 a. m. the mastery of the siren over the gun was pronounced; at 12.30 the gun slightly surpassed the siren; at 1, 2, and 2.30 p. m. the gun also asserted its mastery. This preference for the longer waves was continued on October 18th. On October 20th the day began in favor of the gun, then both became equal, and finally the siren gained the mastery; but the day had become stormy, and a storm is always unfavorable to the momentary gun-sound. The same remark applies to the experiments of October 21st. At 11 a. m., distance 612 miles, when the siren made itself heard through the noises of wind, sea, and paddles, the gun was fired; but, though listened for with all attention, no sound was heard. Half an hour later the result was the same. On October 24th five observers saw the flash of the gun at a distance of 5 miles, but heard nothing; all of them at this distance heard the siren distinctly; a second experiment on the same day yielded the same result. On the 27th also the siren was triumphant; and on three several occasions on the 29th its mastery over the gun was very pronounced.

Such experiments yield new conceptions as to the scattering of sound in the atmosphere. No sound here employed is a simple sound; in every case the fundamental note is accompanied by others, and the action of the atmosphere on these different groups of waves has its optical analogue in that scattering of the waves of the luminiferous ether which produces the various shades and colors of the sky.


Concluding Remarks. — A few additional remarks and suggestions will fitly wind up this paper. It has been proved that in some states of the weather the howitzer firing a 3-lb. charge commands a larger range than the whistles, trumpets, or siren. This was the case, for example, on the particular day, October 17th, when the ranges of all the sounds reached their maximum.

On many other days, however, the inferiority of the gun to the siren was demonstrated in the clearest manner. The gun-puffs were seen with the utmost distinctness at the Foreland, but no sound was heard, the note of the siren at the same time reaching us with distinct and considerable power.

The disadvantages of the gun are these:

a. The duration of the sound is so short that, unless the observer is prepared beforehand, the sound, through lack of attention rather than through its own powerlessness, is liable to be unheard.

b. Its liability to be quenched by a local sound is so great, that it * is sometimes obliterated by a puff of wind taking possession of the ears at the time of its arrival. This point was alluded to by Arago, in his report on the celebrated experiments of 1822. By such a puff a momentary gap is produced in the case of a continuous sound, but not entire extinction.

c. Its liability to be quenched or deflected by an opposing wind, so as to be practically useless at a very short distance to windward, is very remarkable. A case has been cited in which the gun failed to be heard against a violent wind at a distance of 550 yards from the place of firing, the sound of the siren at the same time reaching us with great intensity.

Still, notwithstanding these drawbacks, I think the gun is entitled to rank as a first-class signal. I have had occasion myself to observe its extreme utility at Holyhead and the Kish light-vessel near Kingstown. The commanders of the Holyhead boats, moreover, are unanimous in their commendation of the gun. An important addition in its favor is the fact that in fog the flash or glare often comes to the aid of the sound; on this point the evidence is quite conclusive.

There may be cases in which the combination of the gun with one of the other signals may be desirable. Where it is wished to confer an unmistakable individuality on a fog-signal station, such a combination might with advantage be resorted to.

If the gun be retained as one form of fog-signal (and I should be sorry at present to recommend its total abolition), it ought to be of the most suitable description. Our experiments prove the sound of the gun to be dependent on its shape; but we do not know that we have employed the best shape. This suggests the desirability of constructing a gun with special reference to the production of sound.[4]

An absolutely uniform superiority on all days cannot be conceded to any one of the instruments subjected to examination; still, our observations have been so numerous and long-continued as to enable us to come to the sure conclusion that, on the whole, the steam-siren is the most powerful fog-signal which has hitherto been tried in England. It is specially powerful when local noises, such as those of wind, rigging, breaking waves, shore-surf, and the rattle of pebbles, have to be overcome. Its density, quality, pitch, and penetration, render it dominant over such noises after all other signal-sounds have succumbed.

I have not, therefore, hesitated to recommend the introduction of the siren as a coast-signal.

It will be desirable in each case to confer upon the instrument a power of rotation, so as to enable the person in charge of it to point its trumpet against the wind or in any other required direction. This arrangement was made at the South Foreland, and it presents no mechanical difficulty. It is also desirable to mount the siren so as to permit of the depression of its trumpet fifteen or twenty degrees below the horizon.

In selecting the position at which a fog-signal is to be mounted, the possible influence of a sound-shadow, and the possible extinction of the sound by the interference of the direct waves with waves reflected from the shore, must form the subject of the gravest consideration. Preliminary trials may, in most cases, be necessary before fixing on the precise point at which the instrument is to be placed.

The siren, it will be remembered, has been hitherto worked with steam of 70 lbs. pressure or thereabouts; the trumpets have been worked with compressed air; and our experiments have proved that a pressure of 20 lbs. yielded sensibly as loud a sound as higher pressures. The possibility of obtaining a serviceable sound with this low air-pressure may render available the employment of caloric engines with trumpets; if so, the establishment of trumpets on board light-vessels would be greatly facilitated. The signals at present existing on board such vessels are exceedingly defective, and may be immeasurably improved upon. There are, I am told, practical difficulties as to the introduction of steam on board light-ships; otherwise I should be strongly inclined to recommend the introduction among them of the Canadian whistle. The siren would probably be found too large and cumbrous for light-vessels.

The siren, which has been long known to scientific men, is worked with air, and it would be worth while to try how the fog-siren would behave supposing compressed air to be substituted for steam. Compressed air might also be tried with the whistles.

No fog signal hitherto tried is able to fulfill the condition laid down in a very able letter already referred to, namely, that "all fog-signals should be distinctly audible for at least 4 miles, under every circumstance." Circumstances may exist to prevent the most powerful sound from being heard at half this distance. What may with certainty be affirmed is, that in almost all cases the siren may certainly be relied on at a distance of 2 miles; in the great majority of cases it may be relied upon at a distance of 3 miles, and in the majority of cases to a distance greater than 3 miles.

Happily the experiments thus far made are perfectly concurrent in indicating that at the particular time when fog-signals are needed, the air, holding the fog in suspension, is in a highly-homogeneous condition; hence it is in the highest degree probable that in the case of fog we may rely upon the signals being effective at far greater distances than those just mentioned.

I am cautious not to inspire the mariner with a confidence which may prove delusive. When he hears a fog-signal he ought, as a general rule (at all events until extended experience justifies the contrary), to assume the source of sound to be not more than 2 or 3 miles distant, and to heave his lead or take other necessary precautions. If lie errs at all in his estimate of distance, it ought to be on the side of safety.

With the instruments now at our disposal wisely established along coasts, I venture to think that the saving of property in ten years will be an exceedingly large multiple of the outlay necessary for the establishment of such signals. The saving of life appeals to the higher motives of humanity.


In a report written for the Trinity House on the subject of fog-signals, my excellent predecessor, Prof. Faraday, expresses the opinion that a false promise to the mariner would be worse than no promise at all. Casting our eyes back upon the observations here recorded, we find the sound-range on clear, calm days varying from 212miles to 1612 miles. It must be evident that an instruction founded on the latter observation would be fraught with peril in weather corresponding to the former. Not the maximum but the minimum sound-range should be impressed upon the mariner. Want of attention to this point may be followed by disastrous consequences.

This remark is not made without cause. I have before me a "Notice to Mariners," issued by the Board of Trade, regarding a fog-whistle recently mounted at Cape Race, and which is reputed to have a range of 20 miles in calm weather, 30 miles with the wind; and in stormy weather or against the wind 7 to 10 miles. Now, considering the distance reached by sound in our observations, I should be willing to concede the possibility, in a more homogeneous atmosphere than ours, of a sound-range on some calm days of 20 miles, and on some light, windy days of 30 miles, to a powerful whistle; but I entertain a strong belief that the stating of these distances, or of the distance 7 to 10 miles against a storm, without any qualification, is calculated to inspire the mariner with false confidence. I would venture to affirm that at Cape Race calm days might be found in which the range of the sound will be less than one-fourth of what this notice states it to be. Such publications ought to be without a trace of exaggeration, and furnish only data on which the mariner may with perfect confidence rely. My object in extending these observations over so long a period was to make evident to all how fallacious it would be, and how mischievous it might be, to draw general conclusions from observations made in weather of great acoustic transparency.

Thus ends, for the present at all events, an inquiry which I trust will prove of some importance, scientific as well as practical. In conducting it I have had to congratulate myself on the unfailing aid and coöperation of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House. Captain Drew, Captain Close, Captain Were, Captain Atkins, and the deputy-master, have all, from time to time, taken part in the inquiry. To the eminent arctic navigator, Admiral Collinson, who showed throughout unflagging, and, I would add, philosophic interest in the investigation, I am indebted for most important practical aid; he was almost always at my side, comparing opinions with me, placing the steamer in the required positions, and making, with consummate skill and promptness, the necessary sextant observations. I am also deeply sensible of the important services rendered by Mr. Douglas, the able and indefatigable engineer; of Mr. Ayres, the assistant engineer; and of Mr. Price Edwards, the private secretary of the deputy-master of the Trinity House.

The officers and gunners at the South Foreland also merit my best thanks, as also Mr. Holmes and Mr. Laidlaw, who had charge of the trumpets, whistles, and siren.

In the subsequent experimental treatment of the subject I have been most ably aided by my excellent assistant, Mr. John Cottrell.

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  1. A friend informs me that he has followed a pack of hounds on a clear, calm day without hearing a single yelp from the dogs; while on calm, foggy days from the same distance the musical roar of the pack was loudly audible.
  2. The horn here was temporarily suspended, but doubtless would have been well heard.
  3. Experiments so important as those of De la Roche ought not to be left without verification. I have made arrangements with a view to this object.
  4. The Elder Brethren have already had plans of a new signal-gun laid before them by the constructors of the War Department.