Measurements of atmospheric attenuation at ultrasonic frequencies and the significance for echolocation by bats

J Acoust Soc Am. 1982 Mar;71(3):585-90. doi: 10.1121/1.387529.


The absorption of sound propagating through the atmosphere under laboratory conditions of 25 degrees C and 50% relative humidity was measured at frequencies from 30 to 200 kHz. The attenuating effect on the passage of ultrasonic sounds through air ranged from 0.7 dB/m at 30 kHz. These measurements confirm theoretical expectations and earlier observations that atmospheric attenuation is progressively more severe at higher frequencies and that the atmosphere acts as a low-pass filter for conducting sounds in the frequency range used for echolocation by bats. Different species of bats use different portions of this range of frequencies, and bats emitting sonar signals predominantly above 100 kHz encounter especially severe attenuation of over 3 dB/m. With the greatly restricted operating distances for echolocation at such high frequencies, bats using these higher frequencies must be under compelling ecological pressures of a higher priority than long-range detection of targets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atmosphere
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Echolocation / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Physical Phenomena
  • Physics
  • Sound