Data sonification in hydrology?

Published on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by Milos Gregor

What is data sonification? Can be used for data display in the field of hydrology? How sounds time series of precipitation or river discharges? Or rainfall-runoff model?

For a longer time in the center of my attention is the presentation of numerical and statistical data. Probably the best way to present data is to use any summation technique such as tables, plots or 3D figures. For the data presentation we don't need to use eyes only, but also our ears. If we use sounds to display numerical data we talk about data sonification.

According to Wikipedia the sonification „is the use of non-speech audio to convey information or perceptualize data. Auditory perception has advantages in temporal, amplitude, and frequency resolution that open possibilities as an alternative or complement to visualization techniques“. Interesting information about data sonification you can found at International Community for Auditory Display.

Auditory displays enable eyes-free usage or combine it with visual display. By these ways you can represent your data in multiple new dimensions. For sound we use mainly temporal, amplitude and frequency resolution (functional sounds). Another way is to transform your data to sound that represent some kind of musical instrument (music and media sounds). Data sonification we use mainly in areas such as medical auditory displays, alarms and alerts systems or sonars. In the field of hydrology / hydrogeology we can find some papers, such as Kenney et al. 2014 about isotopic data sonification or Poli 2004 about atmospherics / weather data sonification.

For the exploration of data sonification possibilities I used long-term time series of river discharges, precipitation and temperature measurements from Demänovská valley. This mountain region is an intensively karstified area with the longest cave system in Slovakia (approximately 50 km). Input data were transformed to monthly averages (totals for precipitation) in the period 1981 – 2008 and stored in csv file.

For the transformation of numerical data into sound I used simple software – Sonic. In this program I set for each series one music instrument and some other parameters. The result from sonification is possible to save as wave file. Here I provide some examples. Using other tools and programming I prepare following videos. The first is time series of monthly precipitation totals. The video and sound is not synchronized perfectly.

Next example represents time series of temperatures.

The following example displays the sonification of river discharges.

And the last sample is a combination of all previous components in one video. About this we can think as about the sonification of rainfall-runoff model :) .

I have no information regarding a practical use of data sonification outside warning systems (in hydrology). But if you know about something you can let me know.

I think, it may be useful and interesting to display data in a form other than we are accustomed to in our daily work.