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That mysterious 'world hum' is back in the news

Image: Zug Island, the apparent source of the famous

Image: Zug Island, the apparent source of the famous "Windsor Hum." (Wikimedia Commons)

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, April 24, 2016, 12:31 PM - People in Windsor, Ont., aren't alone in perceiving a mysterious 'hum,' just beyond the range of hearing in most people.

Though it may not be related, people all over the world -- around two per cent of the population, according to Tech Insider -- have reported some kind of unexplained hum, and it's back in the news due to an article in the New Republic magazine.

Writer Colin Dickey actually turned to a Canadian source for info on the hum, which can seem so intense to some people to the point of being maddening. Dickey trekked to Gibsons, British Columbia, to speak with Glen MacPherson, who helps people track world-wide manifestations of the hum on a special website.

And it really is everywhere, according to Dickey, who writes in the New Republic:

It’s in Overland Park, Kansas, where it sounds like “a metallic sound of something vibrating”; in Ankara, Turkey, where it’s a “very deep and quiet rumble that sounds like a very distant diesel generator”; and in Hervey Bay, Australia, where it’s “a pulsating continuous low background aircraft rumble that does not go away.” It seems to show up mostly in rural areas and in small cities: More people have heard it in Boise, Idaho, than in Washington, D.C.

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MacPherson's website seems to be heavy with reports from North America and western Europe, particularly the U.K., but the amateur researcher warns people the concentration on those areas is likely because the site is in English. MacPherson told Global News he plans a Chinese version.

Windsor Hum or World Hum?

Such accounts  would probably put most people in mind of the famed Windsor Hum, which is so notorious, it actually prompted federal researchers to look into it. 

Listen: A YouTube video purporting to describe the hum

But as much as it would be awe-inspiring to know the Windsor Hum is a local manifestation of some kind of global phenomenon, there's evidence it's not.

In 2013, a team at the University of Windsor set up a recording station in an area woodlot. Not only did they confirm the strange noise was real, they said it was likely emanating from nearby Zug Island in River Rouge, Michigan.

If that's the case, it may be separate from the World Hum. According to CBC News, locals who have heard the Windsor Hum are convinced its a separate phenomenon. Resident Mike Provost told CBC he was certain the source was a steel plant on heavily industrial Zug Island, and is different from other unexplained sounds. In any case, its effects, as he describes them, sound unpleasant.

"It rattles everything, including your body, your stomach, everything — headaches, stress, shoulders, neck, ears. You're ears pop, your ears always seem like they're plugged," Provost told CBC.

MacPherson, for his part, told CBC he wasn't convinced Zug Island is noise's only source.

"For all we know, all those reports from Windsor and Lasalle and that area are being confounded by people who can hear the World Hum," he told the network.

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World full of strange noises

As for what the World Hum actually is, there are a great deal of possible explanations. 

Dickey cites Windsor as one example of places where a hum is reported, only to be found to have a localized cause. One hum in Kokomo, Indiana, was traced to two nearby factories. Another in California was Sausalito, California, was found to be the mating call of a particular kind of fish.

As for the prospect of a global hum, Tech Insider notes a persistent humming noise can be a symptom of tinnitus. A study released in 2015 suggested sufferers may be hearing the vibration of ocean waves putting pressure on the sea floor.

If that last one is the case, it wouldn't at all be the only instance of a specific natural phenomenon emitting a highly specialized noise -- or lack thereof.

Many people find a stroll in the woods on a snowy day to be a calming experience: The presence of countless snowflakes in the air acts to muffle distant sounds, and the usual sounds of wildlife are mostly absent as most animals will have taken cover. A 2010 study found that exposure to natural noises helps people recover from stress faster.

And in the realm of public alerting, earlier this year MIT scientists announced a way that deep ocean sound waves might be used to detect tsunamis, potentially saving lives.

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SOURCES: The New Republic | World Hum Map and Database Project | Tech Insider | CBC News | Global News | Geophysical Research Letters | MIT News | International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

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