Facts and Fiction of the Schumann Resonance

This cavity in our atmosphere resonates radio frequency at 7.83 Hz. But is that all it does?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Environment, General Science, Health

Skeptoid #352
March 5, 2013
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It's increasingly hard to find a web page dedicated to the sales of alternative medicine products or New Age spirituality that does not cite the Schumann resonances as proof that some product or service is rooted in science. This mysterious number of 7.83 comes up again and again in sales pitches, as a sort of miracle frequency that can bring you health and wellness. Today we're going to see what the Schumann resonances actually are, how they formed and what they do, and see if we can determine whether they are, in fact, related to human health.

In a nutshell, the Schumann resonances are the name given to the resonant frequency of the Earth's atmosphere, between the surface and the densest part of the ionosphere. They're named for the German physicist Winfried Otto Schumann (1888-1974) who worked briefly in the United States after WWII, and predicted that the Earth's atmosphere would resonate certain electromagnetic frequencies. The closed space inside a bottle has a resonant frequency which becomes audible when you blow across it:

This particular bottle has a resonant frequency of about 196 Hz. That's the frequency of sound waves that most efficiently bounce back and forth between the sides of the bottle, at the speed of sound, propagating via the air molecules. Electromagnetic radiation is similar, except the waves travel at the speed of light, and do not require a medium like air molecules. The speed of light is a lot faster than the speed of sound, but the electromagnetic waves have a lot further to go between the ground and the ionosphere than do the sound waves between the sides of the bottle. This atmospheric electromagnetic resonant frequency is 7.83 Hz, which is near the bottom of the ELF frequency range, or Extremely Low Frequency. The atmosphere has its own radio equivalent of someone blowing across the top of the bottle: lightning. Lightning is constantly flashing all around the world, many times per second; and each bolt is a radio source. This means our atmosphere is continuously resonating with a radio frequency of 7.83 Hz, along with progressively weaker harmonics at 14.3, 20.8, 27.3 and 33.8 Hz. These are the Schumann resonances. It's nothing to do with the Earth itself, or with life, or with any spiritual phenomenon; it's merely an artifact of the physical dimensions of the space between the surface of the Earth and the ionosphere. Every planet and moon that has an ionosphere has its own set of Schumann resonances defined by the planet's size.

The amount of resonance fluctuates as the ionosphere becomes more or less dense, which depends largely on the amount of solar radiation striking it. At night, that part of the ionosphere that's in the Earth's shadow thins out. Another influence is that the world's three lightning hotspots — Asia, Africa, and South America — also follow a day/night cycle, and are seasonal as well. Thus, the peaks of radio signal strength at the Schumann resonance follow a constantly shifting, but reasonably predictable, schedule.

A very important point to be aware of is that this resonated radio from lightning is a vanishingly small component of the electromagnetic spectrum to which we're all naturally exposed. The overwhelming source is the sun, blasting the Earth with infrared, visible light, and ultraviolet radiation. All natural sources from outer space, and even radioactive decay of naturally occuring elements on Earth, produce wide-spectrum radio noise. Those resonating in the Schumann cavity are only a tiny, tiny part of the spectrum.

Nevertheless, because the Schumann resonance frequencies are defined by the dimensions of the Earth, many New Age proponents and alternative medicine advocates have come to regard 7.83 Hz as some sort of Mother Earth frequency, asserting the belief that it's related to life on Earth, despite its being so tiny and lost among all the other, stronger parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Often we find that New Age beliefs are often based more on what seems emotionally satisfying than on sound science.

The most pervasive of all the popular fictions surrounding the Schumann resonance is that it is correlated with the health of the human body. There are a huge number of products and services sold to enhance health or mood, citing the Schumann resonance as the foundational science. Before looking at some of these claims in detail, it's noteworthy that neither Schumann resonances, electromagnetic radiation, or the Earth's ionosphere are mentioned in any medical or anatomical textbooks. There is no detectable or theoretically predicted relationship between either ELF radio or the number 7.83 and the health of human body. But let's look at some of the claims.

Many marketers of jewelry that claims to provide health or sports performance benefits cite the Schumann resonance as the science behind their claim. A notable example is the Power Balance bracelets. Tom O'Dowd, formerly the Australian distributor, said that the mylar hologram resonated at 7.83 Hz. When the bracelet was placed within the body's natural energy field, the resonance would "reset" your energy field to that frequency. Well, there were a lot of problems with that claim. First of all, 7.83 Hz has a wavelength of about 38,000 kilometers. This is about the circumference of the Earth, which is why its atmospheric cavity resonates at that frequency. 38,000 kilometers is just a little bit bigger than a 1 or 2cm hologram; there's no way that something that tiny could resonate such an enormous wavelength. O'Dowd's sales pitch was implausible, by a factor of billions, to anyone who understood resonance.

This same fact also applies to the human body. Human beings are so small, relative to a radio wavelength of 38,000 kilometers, that there's no way our anatomy could detect or interact with such a radio signal in any way.

Proponents of binaural beats cite the Schumann frequency as well. These are audio recordings which combine two slightly offset frequencies to produce a third phantom beat frequency that is perceived from the interference of the two. Here is a common binaural beat recording that produces a beat frequency of 7.83 Hz:

Claims for how this benefits the body are diverse, but most either say something generally similar to what O'Dowd said, or they would claim to change your brain's encephalogram, which they say is a beneficial thing to do. Brain waves, the fluctuations of current in the brain as measured at the scalp by an electroencephalogram, can range from near zero up to about 100 Hz during normal activity, with a typical reading near the lower end of the scale. This happens to overlap 7.83 — suggesting the aforementioned pseudoscientific connection between humans and the Schumann resonance — but with a critical difference. An audio recording is audio, not radio. It's the physical oscillation of air molecules, not the propagation of electromagnetic waves. The two have virtually nothing to do with each other. Audio waves do not affect radio waves, and vice versa. So by no science that's understood would we expect an audio tone to cause a brain's activity to change its frequency to match.

There's a complete Skeptoid episode on binaural beats that addresses the claims in greater detail, and examines some of the research done.

I found one website, EarthCalm.ca (just as one example among many), that says:

Scientific research has recently determined how the human body receives and uses the important information from the Earth's field: 7 billion crystalline magnetites in the human brain, in addition to DNA and the pineal gland are meant to receive guiding information from the band of electromagnetic frequencies that extends from the Earth's crust to the ionosphere (Schumann Resonances). Today, the Earth's field is polluted with man-made frequencies, so the human body instead receives "junk" produced by AC electricity and wireless technology.

Variations on this specific claim are fairly ubiquitous, that our bodies' energy fields need to interact with the Schumann resonance but can't because of all the interference from modern society. It's all complete and utter nonsense. Human bodies do not have an energy field, in fact there's not even any such thing as an energy field. Fields are constructs in which some direction or intensity is measured at every point: gravity, wind, magnetism, some expression of energy. Energy is just a measurement; it doesn't exist on its own as a cloud or a field or some other entity. The notion that frequencies can interact with the body's energy field is, as the saying goes, so wrong it's not even wrong.

Another really common New Age misconception about the Schumann resonance is that it is the resonant frequency of the Earth. This is also completely wrong. Take another listen to blowing across the bottle:

The space inside the bottle resonates at 196 Hz, a G on the musical scale. But listen when I tap the bottle itself:

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

The resonant frequency of the glass bottle itself is about 3520 Hz, which is an A on the musical scale. Two completely different notes. That's because the bottle and the space inside are two different things, with not necessarily any relationship between them. Similarly, there's no reason to expect the Earth's electromagnetic resonant frequency to bear any similarity to the Schumann resonance. But, furthermore, the Earth probably doesn't even have a resonant electromagnetic frequency. Each of the Earth's many layers is a very poor conductor of radio; combined all together, the Earth easily absorbs just about every frequency it's exposed to. If you've ever noticed that your car radio cuts out when you drive through a tunnel, you've seen an example of this.

Now the Earth does, of course, conduct low-frequency waves of other types. Earthquakes are the prime example of this. The Earth's various layers propagate seismic waves differently, but all quite well. Seismic waves are shockwaves, a physical oscillation of the medium. Like audio waves, these are unrelated to electromagnetic radio waves. Each and every major structure within the Earth — such as a mass of rock within a continent, a particular layer of magma, etc. — does have its own resonant frequency for seismic shockwaves, but there is (definitively) no resonant electromagnetic frequency for the Earth as a whole.

So our major point today is that you should be very skeptical of any product, service, article, website, or merchant who uses the Schumann resonance, in any way, as part of a sales pitch. The Earth does not have any particular frequency. Life on Earth is neither dependent upon, nor enhanced by, any specific frequency. Most of these sales pitches are what we in the brotherhood like to call a Word Salad, sciencey-sounding language thrown together in such a way as to sound impressive to the layperson. There's plenty of sciencey goodness in understanding why and what the Schumann resonances actually are, without co-opting them to promote nonsense.

Correction: An earlier version of this incorrectly described 196 Hz as the speed at which the waves bounce back and forth between the sides of the bottle, which is wrong.

Correction: An earlier version also stated that electromagnetic waves propagate via electrons, which was an ill-conceived "journalist's shortcut." Electromagnetic waves do not require that electrons be present.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Editors. "How Radio Communication Works." National Radio Astronomy Observatory. National Science Foundation, 17 Aug. 2008. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nrao.edu/index.php/learn/radioastronomy/radiocommunication>

Kruszelnicki, K. "Sceptics, energy fields and busting myths." Dr. Karl on Triple J. ABC, 25 Nov. 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. <http://www.abc.net.au/science/audio/2010/11/25/3076448.htm>

Nickolaenko, A., Hayakawa, M. Resonances in the Earth–ionosphere cavity. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002.

Pechony, O., Price, C. "Schumann resonance parameters calculated with a partially uniform knee model on Earth, Venus, Mars, and Titan." Radio Science. 9 Oct. 2004, Volume 39, Number 5.

Rakov, V. Lightning: Physics and Effects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Shelikoff, M. "Ask the Experts." Physics and Astronomy Online. PhysLink.com, 15 Nov. 2001. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. <http://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae175.cfm>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Facts and Fiction of the Schumann Resonance." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 5 Mar 2013. Web. 3 Sep 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4352>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 134 comments

Audio waves -can- manipulate brain activity: although audio waves, as you correctly said are not electromagnetic waves, they are waves and they have a frequency. There are many studies about binaural beats and the effect on the EEG, you can find some at the National Center for Biotechnology Information's database.

Andrea, Genoa (IT)
April 25, 2015 10:34am

Dear Skeptoid,

I am a neurscientist with a PhD and an active researcher in the field. I completely agree about the absolute absence of scientific evidence regarding the possibility that the shumann resonance has a direct influence over congnition, at least in the way that pseudoscience and "new age" fellows say.

Nevertheless, I have to say that you are wrong about the fact that an auditory frequence cannot directly influence the brain's rithms, at least in terms of brainwaves as recorded on the EEG. It's called "Brainwave entrainment", and even if abusively exoloited by pseudoscience and commerial applications as well, IT IS a real, scientifically proven phenomenon. The Brain syncs its activity with an external stimulus, so that a 10 hz stimulus can actually rise the amount of "alpha-rithm" brainwaves, wich are associated with relaxed states.

in THIS (and only this) sense, a 7.8 hz auditory frequence could help relax people (as any frequence in the 6-12 hz range).

Even your 2009 post on Binaural Beats is scientifically wrong as well: many studies on BB in the last 5-6 years have proven their potential in entraining the brain rithms and inducing some sort of positive effects (e.g. state anxiety and stress reduction).

Just write "brain entrainment" in PubMed and you'll see many peer-reviewed, blind-controlled studies that will help you change your mind.

Regards!

MEPSI80, Italy
May 6, 2015 6:11am

Skeptoid insists :-
"Human bodies do not have an energy field, in fact there's not even any such thing as an energy field. Fields are constructs in which some direction or intensity is measured at every point: gravity, wind, magnetism, some expression of energy. Energy is just a measurement; it doesn't exist on its own as a cloud or a field or some other entity."

There are six forms of energy found in the physical sciences, one of which is electrical energy (a noun, therefore not just a measurement).

Where there is electricity flow there is a magnetic field.

The body is driven by electricity at every level, from the nerves to the brain, to the cells.

In any lightning-driven electro-magnetic field of various frequencies, such as the Schumann cavity, why shouldn't the electrically-driven brain etc be affected in some manner or other ?

Not so that "new-age" pseudoscience be validated, but that scientists approach their studies on the matter, from other angles.

Such as, it is an irrefutable fact that we live our entire lives within the Earth's magnetic field, the main shield from the Sun's harmful particles ejected by solar flares, from atmospheric erosion and water loss caused by solar wind.

And we live in an electro-magnetic resonance called the Schumann cavity, said resonance in relation to the diameter/circumference of the Earth.

Shouldn't scientists be spending their time researching the relationship between the above, and all life on this planet ?

Macky, Auckland
May 6, 2015 9:29pm

And doesn't it seem significant that the human brain resonates in the same range of frequencies as the Schumann cavity ?

"Human bodies do not have an energy field.."

Perhaps none that science acknowledges. But where there is electricity, there is magnetism. Could it be possible that the aura or at least the etheric glow reported by "psychics" is nothing more or less than the corona of the electrical flow in the body ?

Why shouldn't the Schumann resonance have an effect on our electrical bodies ? We live and breath in it all our lives.

Could it be that one of the true reasons why Man has never been back to the Moon for so long is because the Moon has only a very weak magnetic field to protect any Moon station from the Sun's solar wind, and presumably nothing like the Earth's Schumann resonance to sustain coherent thought of the Moon-station's inhabitants ?

That also the same problem arises on a manned trip to Mars, the astronauts suffering from a lack of Earthlike electro magnetism, and resonant frequencies ?

Never mind lack of gravity, and all its debilitating effects on the human body.

It seems to me that either science needs to catch up on the human/Schumann resonance interaction, or maybe science already has known the details about this for a long time but has kept quiet, as many other scientific activities have been routinely kept hidden from the public.

Macky, Auckland
May 6, 2015 10:12pm

You trash the neoscience of body frequencies, crystalline minerals in the brain (that is proven to exist by science) and say there is no connection with 7.83 cps with the human life systems but provide no evidence against the assertions made by those in this field. You are as bad a scientist as they in this regard in not being empirically based in your assertions. Because it has not been discovered is NOT an acceptable argument to say it does not exist. Formal logic will tell you this/

Dr David Smith, Colorado
May 6, 2015 10:44pm

That is some pretty flawed logic for a doctor.

I don't have to factually disprove cockamamie claims to be skeptical of them. The burden is on the purveyor of such cockamamie claims to factually and scientifically prove their theories. If they cannot, intellignet people have every reason to be skeptical of the claims.

Chuck, Rhode Island
May 7, 2015 1:00pm

Your quote: "Human bodies do not have an energy field, in fact there's not even any such thing as an energy field. Fields are constructs in which some direction or intensity is measured at every point: gravity, wind, magnetism, some expression of energy. Energy is just a measurement; it doesn't exist on its own as a cloud or a field or some other entity. The notion that frequencies can interact with the body's energy field is, as the saying goes, so wrong it's not even wrong."

Wow, I can't believe you actually believe this, Brian! Then what exactly do you think EEG, EKG are measuring? They are measuring various manifestations of the endogenous energy field ie, Electromagnetic Fields created by the human body. They are measuring the energy field! Tell me, how can these everyday hospital machines measure something you say "doesn't exist"? There is a brand new amazing book called PEMF by Bryant A. Meyers, I would strongly suggest you check it out.

Yes, you are correct in that there is a lot of bogus new agey hocus pocus out there! And we should all be skeptical! But, please, check out that book! Thank you for the article.

Nathan, Asheville
May 19, 2015 2:58pm

skeptics do not have their own sense of logic. they are following like sheep the people who came before them with the agenda to go against anything against their beliefs. skeptic.com manifesto is filled with fallacies and BS.

It is a movement founded on anger, bigotry, and dogma.

Much patience is needed with them. New age gullibility and Skeptic gullibility are two extremes of the same delusion.

Skeptics are as delusional or more as those they oppose. But they are worse because they are hypocrites who have flawed logic but try to fool people that they are logical.

skeptics are full of fallacies, alaska
July 23, 2015 12:01am

"It is a movement founded on anger, bigotry, and dogma....

.....Skeptics are as delusional or more as those they oppose. But they are worse because they are hypocrites who have flawed logic but try to fool people that they are logical."
- skeptics are full of fallacies, alaska

Change the word "Skeptics" to "socialists".
Please don't get Skepticism and socialism (ie - communism) mixed up.

Ron, Calgary Alberta Canada
July 23, 2015 11:06am

Not at all. Let's keep the word "skepticism".

Skeptoid, while a good site for discussion of issues that may affect us all, has been proven to be incorrect in some areas of science, and has certainly ignored solid evidence and even critical analysis on occasion.

Most notably, many posters into Skeptoid who regard themselves as rational-thinking skeptics have demonstrated anything but rationality, their expressed views having no foundation in proven fact at all, only assertions of faith, nothing more.
Faith that Authority has told them the truth despite Authority's own records that say otherwise.
Faith in the truthfulness of American history when our own mainstream sites provide evidence to the contrary.
Faith that anything outside the scientifically proven is "woo", despite the plain fact that science doesn't know everything.

Noted by their derision and name-calling when an article of their faith is questioned, these so-called skeptics are as bad as the extreme conspiracy theorists they take every opportunity to deride.

They in fact belong to a class of people normally reserved for a religious cult, but worse inasmuch as they proclaim science as supporting their faith, when on many occasions science is nowhere to be seen, along with evidence that clearly calls into question the so-called skeptics' faith on several issues.

They are also noted by the refusal to answer coherent and pertinent questions, that cast doubt on their "rational thinking".

Macky, Auckland
July 23, 2015 6:38pm

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