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We take for granted having good enough hearing to watch movies without having to read the subtitle “sound of leaves rustling” or hear an oncoming vehicle before we step out into the street, but debilitating hearing loss might be more common than you think. The World Health Organization in 2017 reported that 360 million people – 5 percent of the world’s population – have disabling hearing loss, and 32 million of these unfortunate people are children. As we age, our hearing often gets worse, with a third of everyone on the planet over the age of 65 being affected by disabling hearing loss. The WHO also states that while hearing loss is often congenital, it can be acquired. 1.1 billion young people are potentially ruining their hearing due to the loudness of their environment. Today we’ll discuss some of these noises, in this episode of the Infographics Show, Loudest Things a Person Can Hear.
First let’s talk a little more about hearing the softest sounds. Sound is measured in decibels, with low range noise being things such as light rainfall, or as we mentioned in the intro, the rustling of leaves. It’s thought such sounds range from 30-50 decibels. The sound of one of those rustling leaves falling to the ground does make a sound, and is about 10 decibels, but that will be inaudible most of the time. We may start to hear something like the hum of a lightbulb if we listen carefully, and that is around 15 decibels. Whispering is said to be about 40 decibels and normal talking about 60 decibels, although from our other shows you might find that depends on which country you come from.
An ambulance or police car flying down the street with its siren blaring is very loud, about 125 decibels. This is the kind of sound that you don’t want to be exposed to for too long as it could damage your hearing. It’s also about as loud as the loudest human voice can scream or shout, something naughty children may have been exposed to once too often. Guinness Records tells us the loudest ever sports crowd were Kansas City Chiefs fans when they played the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. The crowd reached 142 decibels. It’s thought that at about 140 decibels we will feel pain in our ears, and being exposed to that kind of sound too much will almost definitely lead to some damage. Sounds of more than 150 decibels could rupture your eardrum if you are close enough.
Ok, so let’s now look at some of the loudest things we can hear. We’ll start with the extreme, and move on to regular day-to-day sounds.
According to various sources, the loudest thing that could have ever been heard while humans have inhabited the planet and recorded events was the eruption of a volcano in 1883 on the island of Krakatoa, located between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. More than 35,000 people died, mostly because of the tsunamis the eruption created. Tidal changes were even recorded as far away as the English Channel. What’s also frightening is the noise this eruption emitted, which was said to have ruptured the eardrums of people 25 miles away (40km). The sound was even heard in Perth, Western Australia, which is 1,930 miles away (3,110 km), and some sources say it could be heard even 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away. This is tantamount to something happening in London and it being heard in Nigeria. Other sources state that if you were up to 100 miles (160 km) away, you would have heard a series of bangs measuring about 180 decibels. That’s a lot more ruptured eardrums. According to firearms websites, that’s quite a bit louder than one of the loudest guns, the .44 Magnum revolver, which reaches about 164 decibels.
Moving away from the noises of nature, let’s now have a look at the loudest sounds created by humans. If you have listened to the stories of soldiers who have been close to bombs going off, you’ll know that that can cause instant damage to the ears, which for some soldiers of the past has led to ongoing problems such as tinnitus. The loudest of these explosions would be the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. It’s thought these reached around 240 decibels. If, however, you were anywhere near those bombs you probably wouldn’t be alive to tell the story, and damaged ears would be the least of your problems. A 1-Ton TNT Bomb is thought to produce a sound of around 210 decibels. Much smaller explosives are hand grenades, and though there are many types, it’s thought most have a killing radius of about 2-3 meters and a wounding radius of more than 15 meters. On top of that, they also have a bang of around 180 decibels, which US military training manuals state is enough to cause “deafness, tinnitus, and inner ear disturbance”.
Another of our manmade sounds is that of the rocket launch. Of course you can’t stand very close to a rocket when it’s taking off, but even at a distance it is very loud. The loudest ever rocket recorded was NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which was said to have reached around 205 decibels. It is perhaps worse on the ears than a bomb, as the noise is constant for a while. Keeping with vehicles but looking at sports, the loudest things we have are Top Fuel dragsters. These incredibly fast machines can produce noise of up to 160 decibels.
Dragsters, however, are no match for some animals. Probably one of the scariest things you could ever be up close to is the roar of a lion. In the wild that could very well be the last thing you hear, a noise that reaches around 114 decibels. But the top two noisiest animals live in the sea, and both are louder than the sound of a jet engine at just 100 feet (140-50 decibels). The loudest is the scream of the Pistol shrimp, also known as the snapping shrimp. This strange underwater creature will snap closed its large claw so hard it shoots jets of water. This forms bubbles which then implode and create a noise of about 200 decibels. Because it’s underwater, humans wouldn’t be affected by the noise, but other shrimp might want to get out of the way. The next loudest animal is the whistle of the blue whale, which can reach 188 decibels and can be heard by other whales up to 497 miles (800km) away.
But what about the dangers of noise in circumstances we might come across on any given day? According to Gibson.com, the loudest band in the history of rock concerts was Kiss, who when performing in Ottawa, Canada, in 2009 reached a peak of 136 decibels. Other bands that almost reached this noise intensity include electronic outfit Leftfield, heavy metal band, Manowar, and British rockers Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Not surprisingly, many musicians complain of hearing loss and tinnitus. While most jobs ensure that your ears will be protected in a noisy environment, these rock musicians likely didn’t wear earplugs all the time. Other noisy work environments that do require hearing safety measures include airport ground staff (140 decibels), Formula One drivers (135 decibels), and construction workers (up to 120 decibels). Even nightclubs can get very loud and damage the ears of party goers and staff. Most nightclubs will have sound systems that generate sound at around 85 decibels – the safe limit according to most governments – but some clubs will reach 115 decibels. Most people listening to devices such as iPods will listen at around 85 decibels or less, but it is thought some devices will reach 100-115 decibels. At this level, doctors warn us that hearing damage could occur after prolonged use. As a comparison, a chainsaw only reaches 110 decibels, and it wouldn’t seem very sensible to listen to that for a few hours.
This year, Vice magazine reported on what it called the loudest sound system in the world, something that if turned up could “melt your face off and boil your organs.” It’s not a musical sound system per se, but a generator of noise called the Large European Acoustic Facility. According to Vice, it creates noise in a chamber to “simulate the environment that a spacecraft will come into contact with.” It reaches 154 decibels.
So, what is the loudest thing you’ve ever heard? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called How Fast Can We Go! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!