Under water, humans hear via bone conduction

David Kirkwood
May 28, 2011

SEATTLE–Using bone-conduction hearing, human beings can perceive much higher sounds under water than they can on land using air conduction. So reported researchers during a May 24 presentation to the Acoustical Society of America meeting in Seattle. In their study, researchers from the Naval Submarine Medical Research Lab in Groton, CT, tested the range of hearing for submerged participants in a very quiet pond on a military facility.

While the human auditory system cannot normally hear sounds above 20,000 Hz, at highest, Michael Qin, the principal investigator and a senior research scientist, said that in the study divers could hear sounds up to 200,000 Hz.

It’s not clear what benefits these discoveries may have for people, although possibly they could help in the development of different types of hearing aids. There are already devices that use bone conduction of sound to help people who can’t use regular air-conduction instruments. The findings might also help improve the safety and effectiveness of divers.


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