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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Sounds in Water

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"SOUNDS IN WATER Of all the methods practised for the detection of submarines that depending on the sounds which they emit has been of the widest application. The question of detection has been, of course, of nearly equal importance in the opposite sense, viz. the hearing of surface ships by the crew of a submerged submarine. The sounds created in the sea by a screw-propelled ship are of a very complicated character, arising partly from the interaction between the propeller and the water, and partly from the vibrations of the machinery which are transmitted through the walls of the ship into the sea. They vary greatly from ship to ship, even of the same class; and, in the later stages of the war, submarines had been constructed which, when cruising submerged at certain slow speeds, emitted practically no noise at all. In many ways the detection of submarines in the sea is more difficult than that of aircraft in air. Normally, listening in air takes place at stations which are fixed; in submarine listening the stations were most frequently ships, which for tactical reasons connected with their safety, had to be constantly on the move. Their own machinery noise and the acoustic disturbances arising from their motion through the water were very 1 The following publications should be consulted, although, for reasons already given, they form by no means adequate references: H. C. Hayes, Engineer (1920), p. 49 1; C. V. Drysdale (Kelvin Lecture), Journ. I.E.E. (1920); W. H. Bragg, " Submarine Acoustics," Nature, July 1919; F. L. Hopwood, " Submarine Acoustics," Nature, Aug. 1919.

apt to drown the noises proceeding from more distant sources. The noise of the sea, too, even in weather not at all stormy, interfered greatly, and the range at which a submarine could be heard varied much from day to day. A serious additional limitation was that recourse could not normally be had to the reflection of ordinary sounds (as is possible in air) chiefly by reason of the great size of the necessary reflectors. For the speed of sound in sea water is more than four times that in air, so that the wave-lengths are larger in the same ratio. This necessitates a corresponding increase in the linear dimensions of the sound mirror, if equal efficiency is to be obtained.

1 Hydrophones

2 Directional Hydrophones

3 Differential Hydrophones

4 Binaural Listening

5 Other Methods of Direction-finding

6 Sea Sound-Ranging


Hydrophones, or under-water sound detectors, were already in use before the war for signalling purposes, being carried by ships for listening to submarine bells operated by Trinity House as warnings in foggy weather. They consisted of small, metal, water-tight cases of which one face was a metallic diaphragm operating an enclosed microphone. The electrical disturbances of the microphone caused by any vibration of the diaphragm arising from sound pressure waves in the sea, were conveyed to telephone receivers on the ship, where listening took place. It was usual to suspend the hydrophones in water-filled tanks attached inboard to the outer shell of the ship, which, owing to the fact that steel in water transmits sound almost completely, does not diminish appreciably the intensity. Normally the hydrophone diaphragm was tuned so that its natural frequency in water 2 approximated to that of the signalling bell, and so that increased range could be secured by depending on resonance.

The earlier hydrophones used for naval purposes were of much the same type, although the resonant diaphragm proved to be by no means an unmixed advantage. All sounds containing a component corresponding to the diaphragm frequency were distorted in reproduction, and what was gained in sensitivity was liable to be lost in the difficulty of recognition, or, in other words, failure in discrimination between genuine noises due to a submarine and other noises inevitably present in the sea. Appeal to resonance is only really advantageous when the sound under observation has a predominant note, as in the case of an aeroplane; and submarines do not display this characteristic. Ultimately hydrophones of a nonresonant character came to be preferred, and were frequently used in practice. These consisted most usually of enclosures made of rubber, sufficiently thick to withstand the pressure of the sea at the usual depth (about 15 ft. ), and having natural frequencies below the limit of audition.

An alternative type of hydrophone consisted merely of a hollow enclosure without a microphone, sometimes with a metallic diaphragm, and sometimes simply a rubber tube, filled with air and connected by long tubes to stethoscopes applied to the ears. These are operated by the transference of the pressure vibrations from the sea to the air cavity and thence to the ears. Electrical hydrophones have the advantage over non-electrical ones that their sensitivity can be readily augmented by various means, e.g., b y the use of thermionic amplifiers (see Wireless Telegraphy).

In cases where the hydrophones had to be used by ships in motion, they were sometimes fitted into the hull of the ship; or themselves consisted of fish-shaped bodies towed at a considerable distance behind the ship. The former precaution, i.e. making the shape stream-like, aimed at diminishing the vibrations created by the passage of the hydrophone through the water; the latter had in view the partial elimination of the disturbances arising from noises in the towing ship. Even so, it frequently became necessary to stop the engines temporarily, and listen with the towed hydrophones while the momentum of the ship continued to carry it forward. This proved to be only feasible at comparatively slow speeds.

Directional Hydrophones

All the hydrophones so far described are of a non-directional character, i.e. the intensity of the sound heard in them is practically independent of the orientation of the sensitive receiving diaphragm with respect to the position of the source of sound. The limitations of dimensions necessitated by considerations of portability, etc., are such as to render the instruments much too small to give an effective " sound shadow." The reason for this has already been mentioned, viz. the great wave-lengths corresponding to audible sounds. At a frequency of 500 per second, for example, the wave-length in water is nearly ten feet.

Differential Hydrophones

Curiously enough, however, one type of directional hydrophone, called here for distinguishing purposes a differential hydrophone, did, in fact, depend upon the small differences of pressure operating upon its two sides; and it met with considerable success. It was made in various forms, the simplest of which consisted of a circular metal diaphragm, bearing at its centre a water-tight box containing a microphone, and clamped round its rim to a heavy metal ring. When placed in the sea so that the plane of the diaphragm passed through the position of the sound source, the pressure variations on the two sides are the same both in amplitude and phase, with the result that the diaphragm and therefore 2 This is considerably lower than the natural frequency in air, on account of the additional loading by the water.

the microphone, has no motion imparted to it, and the sound heard is a minimum. If, however, the diaphragm faces the sound source, there are, apparently, differences in the pressures on the two sides (probably in both amplitude and phase), and a small differential vibration takes place, with consequent sound in the receiving telephones. Actually, as the hydrophone is rotated through 360° about a vertical axis, two maxima and two minima of sound intensity are observed. In this form, therefore, the instrument is what is called bi-directional, i.e. it is unable to distinguish between sources in front and behind. The desirability of obtaining a uni-directional instrument led to the introduction of the so-called baffle-plate, the behaviour of which has not yet been explained satisfactorily in terms of orthodox theory. The essential characteristics of a baffle appear to be that it should be made of non-resonant material and have air cavities within it. Such a plate, fixed at a small distance (which has to be determined by trial) from one face of a bi-directional hydrophone, transforms it into a uni-directional instrument. A single sound maximum is now obtained upon rotation, occurring when the sound source and the baffle plate are on opposite sides of the diaphragm; and a single minimum, - this when the baffle lies between the sound source and the diaphragm. The " edge-on " minima, observed when the baffle is absent, now disappear.

Binaural Listening

The principles underlying this method of direction-finding have been described already. In the present case the main difference is that the sound receivers have to be submerged hydrophones. It has been found to be equally necessary for success that these should be as completely as possible non-resonant. The simplest arrangement used in practice was two rubber cavities placed several feet apart horizontally, and joined by separate equal tubes to the two ears. The device could be rotated about a vertical axis, usually passing through the hull of the operating ship. As in the case of air listening, compensators were often used in order to avoid the necessity of rotating heavy apparatus. An arrangement much preferred was to tow two or more fish-shaped hydrophones in known positions (about 12 ft. apart) behind the ship. Here electrical transference of the acoustic disturbances had to be adopted, and this necessitated great care in the choice of the microphones and telephone receivers so as to avoid selective resonance. (The behaviour of microphones in this respect was often unsatisfactory, and telephone earpieces, or magnetophones, were frequently substituted for them. This results in diminished sensitivity, but the binaural effects are much improved.) The telephone receivers delivered the sound into the compensator, and the phase difference was measured in the usual way; allowing, of course, for the difference of speed of sound in the sea and in the air channels of the compensator. In using a compensator with two sound-receiving units only, there remains an ambiguity of estimated direction, i.e. one cannot distinguish between the angles 0 and it + 8. The introduction of a third unit, so that the three form a triangle of known dimensions, - the units being capable of use in pairs with the compensator - ensures the correct choice between the alternative angles.

Other Methods of Direction-finding

Several other methods of perception of direction, not easy to classify, have found application in practice. One of these consisted in fitting in the shell of a ship, on opposite sides, two diaphragms with microphones attached, arranged so that the hydrophones thus formed were of as nearly as possible equal sensitivity. These were listened to alternately by means of a reversing switch. The ship, on account of its considerable size, was capable of giving a marked sound shadow. Thus the starboard hydrophone would give greater response than that on the port side if the sound source were to starboard, and vice versa. By steering the ship so that the responses were equal, it could be inferred that the course was directed towards the cause of the sound. The limitations of the method were mainly those arising from local noises; and the speed had to be small while listening took place.

In other cases large numbers of sound receivers, usually simple diaphragms whose function was to transfer the vibrations from the sea to the air inside, were inserted in the ship's hull. Good results were obtained by an arrangement of this kind, called the Walser gear, in which the sound receivers were disposed at regular intervals on a large bulge, in the shape of a spherical segment, incorporated in the hull on either side towards the bows. The system acted as a sound lens, a sound focus occurring at a point where the " sound paths " by alternative routes were equal. Application of the laws of geometrical optics enabled the relation between the position of the focus and the direction of incidence of the sound wave on the ship's side to be determined.

Sea Sound-Ranging

The methods hitherto mentioned for perceiving sound direction would all fail when the sounds are abrupt in character, because they all require an appreciable time for carrying out the necessary tests. To determine the position of an exploding submarine mine or torpedo we require, therefore, a different device. A suitable method is one identical in principle with that practised on land. The main variations in applying the device to the sea are that the microphones must be in submerged hydrophones, and that a correct knowledge of the velocity of sound in sea water must form the basis of the calculations. Ordinary nondirectional hydrophones of the type first mentioned have proved to be quite sufficiently sensitive. Indeed, the greatness of the distances at which explosions in the sea have given unmistakable im pressions on the recording film has been surprising. Small detonators serve at distances of several miles, while the explosion of 40 lb. of gun-cotton is operative more than loo m. from the receiving hydrophones. Many experiments have been carried out by the British Admiralty with hydrophones disposed in suitable positions on the East coast of Britain, and the installations promise to be useful, not only for locating mine and torpedo explosions in circumstances of war, but also for navigational and surveying purposes. A ship in fog, for example, could ascertain its position by exploding (with due notification by wireless to the sound-ranging station) a small charge near itself in the sea; the station could within a few minutes inform the ship - again by wireless - of its position.



Corrected Velocity

in ft. per sec.



18 .








18 .







Culver (I. of W.)


Sea sound-ranging has necessitated the accurate redetermination of the velocity of sound in sea water. This has been accomplished by the inverse of the process just mentioned, viz. by exploding charges in the sea, and measuring by the recording string galvanometer the time intervals between the reception of the first shock by hydrophones submerged in accurately known positions. The observed velocity depends on several factors, including tidal flow, temperature, and salinity, which vary from place to place. The following table gives some of the results obtained, corrected to a standard salinity corresponding to a specific gravity of I

026 and a temperature of Io° C.: - The effect of tide, apparently, has not been allowed for. It would amount, at most, to a few feet per second.

3. Auditorium Acoustics The acoustics of public buildings have recently been put on what approximates to an exact scientific basis, largely as a result of the work of W. C. Sabine ( Frank. Inst. J., 179, p. I, 191 5). For good hearing three conditions are necessary and sufficient. The sound heard must be loud enough; the simultaneous constituents of a mixed sound must preserve their relative intensities; and the successive sounds must remain distinct and in the correct order, and be free from extraneous noises. The extent to which these conditions are fulfilled depends on the construction of the auditorium, its shape, its dimensions, and the materials of which it is composed. In already finished buildings radical alterations of the first two are not often feasible, but great improvements can be secured solely by suitable changes in the internal features.

The main difficulty arises from what has been called reverberation, due to the multiple reflection of sound at different parts of the room. If the reverberation is prolonged, it means that the rate of absorption of the sound is slow. Thus, in a lecture room at Harvard, where these experiments were commenced, the rate of absorption was so small that a single spoken word continued to be audible for 51 seconds. Successive syllables thus had to be heard and appreciated through a loud mixed sound due to the reverberation of many previous syllables, and the conditions of hearing were intolerable. Great reduction of the multiple echoes constituting reverberation can be made by increasing the rate of absorption of sound. It is apparent that, in the space of several seconds, the sounds travelling at 1,100 ft. per sec. will have suffered many successive reflections, and will, therefore, have penetrated to practically all parts of the room. The sound will have become diffuse radiation, and absorbing material introduced almost anywhere will be equally effective in reducing reverberation. An open window proves to be a complete absorber, in the sense that it permits the egress of the maximum possible quantity of sound radiation ( cf. the properties of a small aperture in an isothermal enclosure in heat radiation). The introduction of cushions, carpets, wall hangings and people also largely diminishes reverberation, because of their considerable absorbing powers. Sabine has made a systematic study of the coefficients of sound absorption of various materials by the inverse method of measuring their effect in reducing the duration of reverberation. Typical results are given in the following table. These apply to the frequency an octave above middle C.



Coefficient of


Open window. .



Linoleum, loose on floor


Oriental rugs. .. .. .


Plaster on wood lath. ... .


Glass, single thickness.

0 027

Plain ash chairs. .. .. .


Upholstered chairs. ... .


Hair felt, 2.5 cm. thick, 8 cm. from wall.



Other measurements indicated that an audience gave an absorption equal to 44% of that due to an equal area of complete absorber, thus accounting for the improved hearing conditions known to exist in well-filled buildings.

The absorption of sound can thus be adjusted with precision, but it must not be carried too far, otherwise the sound intensity is too much diminished. The ear is able to disregard, or even to take advantage of, reverberation which is not too prolonged, and the extent of absorption has to be adjusted to the appropriate amount. Too many apertures such as open windows or doors must be avoided.

Sabine has also made examination of the exact manner in which sound is reflected in an auditorium by constructing scale models of the latter, and photographing the sound waves at various instants after creation, using the beautiful method due to Toepler (Annalen der Physik, 12 7, p. 55 6) and elaborated by R. W. Wood ( Physical Optics, 2 ed., 1911, P. 94). By this means the positions of the sound waves, both incident and reflected, are capable of observation at all instants and at all points in the model room, and they provide data upon which can be based correct architectural construction from the acoustic point of view.

4. Miscellaneous Advances Absolute Measurement of Sound.-A. G. Webster ( N at. Acad. Sci. Proc.. 5, p. 173, 1919) has advanced to a considerable extent the methods of absolute measurement. For this purpose it is impossible to rely upon audition, handicapped as it is by the vagaries of the ear. What is required is a reliable mechanical device, the performance of which is constant, to record the sound vibrations with sufficient magnification. Webster has made an exhaustive study of the properties of various materials, and has constructed from those most suitable for the purpose two instruments which he has called the phone and phonometer respectively. The phone provides a means of creating a simple tone of intensity and frequency which are under control and capable of exact measurement. The phonometer is an instrument for measuring absolutely the vibrations received by it. It consists of the combination of a diaphragm and a resonator, both of which are adjustable in frequency. The motion of the diaphragm is observed by making it a reflector and part of a Michelson interferometer, so that the amplitude is measured in terms of the wave-length of suitable monochromatic light. In practice the interference fringes are photographed on a moving film upon which they appear as wavy lines. Against this instrument, which is regarded as a standard, other portable phonometers can be calibrated, these depending on the simpler process of the deflection of a beam of light set into angular oscillation by the receiving diaphragm. With such instruments, and also with D. C. Miller's phonodeik (referred to later) L. V. King has carried out an elaborate investigation on the propagation of sound in air and fog-signal efficiency ( Phil. Trans.. 218, p. 211, 1919) in the region near Father Point, Quebec. King, in this paper, also describes a modification of the siren called the diaphone, used as a standard source of sound in his research.

Analysis of Sound.-Webster's phonometer described above is a resonant instrument, and, therefore, unsuitable for the analysis of mixed sounds. Much progress has been made, however, in the analysis of such sounds, using non-resonant recorders, for example, D. C. Miller's phonodeik. This instrument, which depends on the motion imparted to a tiny mirror by the opera tion of a vibrating diaphragm, is described in Miller's Science of Musical Sounds (1916), where also will be found the results of the analysis of various sounds. Similar work has been carried out by C. V. Raman, in relation to the vibrations of bowed strings and instruments of the violin family ( Indian Assoc. for Cultivation of Science, Bull. No. 15, 1918). In these cases the sound record is of the ordinary type and consists of the trace on a moving photographic film of a spot of light vibrating at right angles to the motion of the film, thus forming a transverse wave. Records of a different type have recently been obtained (A. O. Rankine, Proc. Phys. Soc. Load., 32, p. 78, 1919) in which the sounds are caused to vary the intensity of a narrow beam of light, which gives on a moving film a line image perpendicular to the motion. The record thus consists of a negative film of varying transparency along its length. It is not so suitable as transverse records for direct analysis of the component frequencies, but it has the advantage that it admits of reproduction of the sound by means of a selenium cell, such as is used in phototelephony. This arrangement constitutes a novel type of phonograph operated by light, first invented by Ernst Ruhmer in 1900, but hitherto little known. (A. O. R.)

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Sounds in Water'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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