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Echolocation and Sound under the Sea

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

— New York, NY

sonar, echolocation, hearing, underseas, submarine, ocean, technology, stem, steme, marine biology
submarine sonar navigation system

The standard picture of echolocation is usually painted through science fiction. All of a sudden, a high-tech GPS tracker beeps to alert the heroines of a malicious presence nearby as they travel underwater. In reality, both people and animals use sonar. Submarines often use sonar technologies to navigate the ocean and detect other underwater objects. Light does not travel nearly as far as sound, so sonar is the preferred method of communication for many undersea animals.


As a whole, sound is both passive and active. Despite their similarities, each of these types of acoustics is used for different purposes underwater. Passive acoustics can be defined as a listening method. The user does not produce any sounds, instead, they receive and listen to what can be heard nearby. On the other hand, active acoustics refers to the creation and reception of sound. The two main components are underwater telephones, which have the sound source and receiver in different locations, and monostatic sonar, when the sound is sent out and purposefully bounced back to the receiver. Within these sounds, there is a lot of information waiting to be understood.


Sonar itself stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging, which involves passive and active sonar. Operators inside a submarine can use active sonar to identify and investigate nearby objects without leaving the submarine. They can determine the size and distance of an object simply by sending out the sound signal and observing how the sound is bounced back. Submarines can also simply monitor sound through passive sonar, listening for the movement of nearby objects and animals.

sonar, echolocation, hearing, underseas, submarine, ocean, technology, stem, steme, marine biology
bat echolocation in action

Many marine mammals themselves use a specific means of sonar, called echolocation. As humans living on land, it is fascinating to learn about echolocation and sonar. It is even more intriguing that scientists have managed to mimic echolocation to produce sonar for submarines, producing a lot of information and observations.


Underwater sound may be an uncommonly discussed topic, but it is essential for many animals and valuable for humans as well. In the future, there is potential for humans to improve on sonar capabilities to create more effective processes, learning from the animals that utilize echolocation daily.


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