Some Fundamental Aspects of Biological Effects of Extremely Low Frequency (ELF)

  • W. Ross Adey
Part of the NATO Advanced Study Institutes Series book series (NSSA, volume 49)


Environmental ELF fields in the spectrum below 100 Hz are an intrinsic aspect of the normal terrestrial environment. The entire gamut of terrestrial organisms from bacteria to man have evolved in this unceasing barrage of electromagnetic activity. Coupling of fields at these frequencies to tissues will be weak in comparison with radio or microwave fields having the same electric gradients in air, whether the tissues be in the near field of man-made devices, with direct capacitive coupling, or in the far field of propagating ELF disturbances, such as the Schumann resonances that encircle the earth as true Maxwellian radiation. Thus, the expected levels of induced components of environmental fields in the tissues of man exposed to a 10 kV/m power line field at 50 or 60 Hz would be in the range of 1.0 mV/cm. In assessing possible biological effects, the level of this induced gradient in extracellular fluid must be equated with the possibilities of direct modification of cell membrane potentials, where these membrane potentials are vastly greater, typically of the order of 105 V/cm. Since this clear disparity in gradients between the components of imposed fields and the membrane potential has been long known, it has been assumed that interactions were extremely unlikely.


Plasma Oscillation Electric Organ Electric Organ Discharge Schumann Resonance Weak Electric Field 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adey, W.R., 1959, The sense of smell, in: “Handbook of Physiology. Neurophysiology.” Am. Physiol. Soc., Washington D.C. Sect.1, Vol. 1, ch. 21, pp. 535–549Google Scholar
  2. Adey, W.R., 1977, The sensorium and the modulation of cerebral states: tonic environmental influences on limbic and related systems, Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 290: 396–420ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Adey, W.R., 1981a, Tissue interactions with nonionizing electromagnetic fields, Physiol. Rev. 61: 435–514Google Scholar
  4. Adey, W.R., 1981b, Ionic nonequilibrium phenomena in tissue interactions with electromagnetic fields, in: “Biological Effects of Nonionizing Radiation”, K.H. Illinger, ed. Am. Chem. Soc. Symp. Ser., No 157. Am. Chem. Soc., Washington, D.C. pp. 271–297Google Scholar
  5. Arendse, M.C., and Vrins, J.C.M., 1976, Magnetic orientation and its relation to photic orientation in Tenebrio Molitor L. ( Coleoptera, Tenebrioniadae) Netherlands J. Zool. 25: 407–437.Google Scholar
  6. Aschoff, J., and Weyer, R., 1962, Spontanperiodik des Menschen bei Ausschluss aller Zeitgeber. Naturwissenschaften 49: 337–342ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bassett, C.A.L., Pawluk, R.J. and Pilla, A.A., 1974, Acceleration of fracture repair by electromagnetic fields, Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 238: 242–249.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bawin, S.M. and Adey, W.R., 1976, Sensitivity of calcium binding in cerebral tissue to weak environmental electric fields oscillating at low frequency. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 73: 1999–2003ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Becker, G., 1976, Reaction of termites to weak alternating magnetic fields. Naturwissenschaften 63: 201–202ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bennett, M.V.L., 1971, Electrolocation in fish, Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 188: 242–269ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Blackman, C.F., Bennane, S.G., and Kinney, L.S., 1981, Effects of ELF radiation on calcium ion efflux from brain tissue in vitro, Bioelectromagnetics Soc., 3rd Annual Conf. Washington, D.C. Abstracts, p. 47Google Scholar
  12. Blakemore, R.P., 1975, Magnetotactic bacteria, Science 190:377–379ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bookman, M.A., 1977, The sensitivity of the homing pigeon, Columbia livia, to an earth strength magnetic field, Nature, London 267: 340–342ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brighton, C.T., Black, J., Friedenberg, Z.B., Esterhai, J.L., Day, L.J., and Connolly, J.F., 1981, A multicenter study of the treatment of nonunion with constant direct current. J. Bone Joint Surgery 63A: 2–13Google Scholar
  15. Crane, E., 1974, Directions in which bees build combs, Bee World 55: 153–155Google Scholar
  16. DeLorge, J., 1973, Operant behavior of rhesus monkeys in the presence of extremely low frequency-low intensity magnetic and electric fields. Experiment 2. Pensacola, FL Naval Aerospace Med. Lab. Publ. NAMRL - 1179. pp. 23 Google Scholar
  17. DeLorge, J., 1974, A psychological study of rhesus monkeys exposed to extremely low frequency-low intensity magnetic fields. Pensacola, FL Naval Aerospace Med. Lab. Publ. NAMRL - 1203Google Scholar
  18. Dijkgraff, S., and Kalmijn, A.J., 1962, Verhaltensversuche zur Funktion der Lorenzinischen Ampullen. Naturwissenschaften 49: 400ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cavalas, R.J., Walter, D.O., Hamer, J., and Adey, W.R., 1970, Effect of low-level, low-frequency electric fields on EEG and behavior in Macaca nemestrina, Brain Res. 18: 491–501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gavalas-Medici, R., and Day-Magdaleno, S., 1976, Extremely low frequency, weak electric fields affect schedule-controlled behavior of monkeys, Nature, London 261: 256–258ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gould, J.L., Kirschvink, J.L., and Deffeyes, K.S., 1978, Bees have magnetic remanence. Science 201: 1026–1028ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grissett, J.D., and deLorge, J., 1971, Central nervous system effects as measured by reaction time in squirrel monkeys exposed for short periods to extremely low-frequency fields. Pensacola, FLNaval Aeorspace Med. Res. Lab. Publ. NAMRL–1137. pp 1–11Google Scholar
  23. Hamer, J.R., 1968, Effects of low-level, low-frequency electric fields on human reaction time. Comm. Behay. Biol. 2 (A): 217–222Google Scholar
  24. Hamer, J.R., 1969, Effects of low-level, low-frequency electric fields on human time judgement in: “Proc. 5th Internat. Biometeorologics Congress”, Montreau, Switzerland. Trompe, S.W., and Weihe, W.H., eds. Springer, Berlin. p. 92Google Scholar
  25. Hodgkin, A.L., and Huxley, A.F., 1952, A quantitative description of membrane current and its application to conduction and excitation in nerve J. Physiol., London 117: 500–544.Google Scholar
  26. Jolley, W.B., Hinshaw, D.B., Knierim-Hinshaw, K., and Hinshaw, D.B., 1982, Magnetic field effects on calcium efflux and insulin secretion in isolated rabbit islets of Langerhans, Bioelectromagnetics Google Scholar
  27. Kalmijn, A.J., 1966, Electroperception in sharks and rays, Nature, London 212: 1232–1233ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kalmijn, A.J., 1971, The electric sense of sharks and rays, J. Exper. Biol. 55: 371–383Google Scholar
  29. Kalmijn, A.J., 1979, Electromagnetic guidance systems in fishes, in: “Magnetic Field Effects on Biological Systems”, Tenforde, T., ed. Plenum Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  30. Kalmijn, A.J., and Blakemore, R.P., 1978, The magnetic behavior of mud bacteria, in: “Animal Migration, Navigation and Homing”,Schmidt-König, K., and Keeton, W.T., eds. Springer, New York pp. 354–355Google Scholar
  31. Keefe, W.T., Etzold, H., and Polk, C., 1973, Detection and processing of ELF (3–30 Hz) natural electromagnetic noise. Univ. Rhode Island, Kingston. US Air Force Report AFLRL-TR-73–0077Google Scholar
  32. Keeton, W.T., 1977, Biological sensitivity to magnetic fields in orientational responses. Neurosci. Res. Program Bull. 15: 22–27Google Scholar
  33. Keeton, W.T., Larkin, T.S., and Windsor, D.M., 1974, Normal fluctuation in the earth’s magnetic field influence on pigeon orientation. J. Comp. Physiol. 95: 95–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lawrence, A.F., and Adey, W.R., 1982, Nonlinear wave mechanisms in interactions between excitable tissue and electromagnetic fields, Neurol. Res.Google Scholar
  35. Lindauer, M., and Martin, H., 1968, Die Schwereorientierung der Bienen unter dem Einfluss des Erdmagnet feldes. Z. Vgl. Physiol. 60: 219–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lindauer, M., and Martin, H., 1972, Magnetic effect on dancing bees in: “Animal Orientation and Navigation”, Galler, S.R., Schmidt-König, K., Jacobs, G.J., and Belleville, R.E., eds. NASA Publ. SP-262. US Govt. Printing Office, Washington, D.C. pp. 559–567Google Scholar
  37. Lissman, H.W., 1958, On the function and evolution of electric organs in fish. J. Exper. Biol. 35: 156–191Google Scholar
  38. Luben, R.A., Chen, M., Rosen, D., Pilla, A.A., and Adey, W.R., 1981, Effects of therapeutic electromagnetically induced current on hormone responsiveness of bone cells in vitro, Proc. 157thGoogle Scholar
  39. Annual Meeting, Electrochem Soc., Bioelectrochemistry Symp., St. Louis, MO, 1980. Abstract 464, p. 75Google Scholar
  40. Martin, H., and Lindauer, M., 1973, Orientierung in Erdmagnetfeld, Fortschr. Zool. 21: 211–228Google Scholar
  41. National Academy of Sciences, USA, 1977, “Biologic of Electric and Magnetic Fields Associated with Proposed Project Seafarer”. Washington, D.C., p. 257Google Scholar
  42. Norton, L., Tansman, L., Pilla, A.A., and Regelson, W., 1980, Electrochemical information transfer and the enhancement of in vivo anti-cancer chemotherapy, Proc. 157th Annual Meeting, Electrochem. Soc., Bioelectrochem. Symp., St. Louis, MO, 1980. Abstract 462, p. 75Google Scholar
  43. Polk, C., 1974, Sources, propagation, amplitude and temproal variations of extremely low frequency (1–100 Hz) electromagnetic fields, in: “Biologic and Clinical Effects of Low Frequency Magnetic and Electric Fields”, Llaurado, V., ed. Thomas, Springfield, IllinoisGoogle Scholar
  44. Presdi, D., and Pettigrew, J.D., 1980, Ferromagnetic coupling to muscle receptors as a basis for geomagnetic field sensitivity in animals, Nature, London 285: 99–101ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sagan, P.M., Adey, W.R., Sabbot, I.M., and Bystrom, B.G., 1982, Effects of 60 Hz environmental electric fields on laboratory rats, Bioelectromagnetics Google Scholar
  46. Scheich, H., and Bullock, T.H., 1974, The detection of electric fields from electric organs, in: “Handbook of Sensory Physiology. Electroreceptors and Other Specialized Receptors in Lower Vertebrates”, D. Albe-Fessard, ed. Springer, New York. Vol. 3, part 3, pp. 201–256Google Scholar
  47. Schumann, W.O., 1957, Uber elektrische Eigen schwindungen des Hohlraumes Erd-Luft-Ionosphare, erregt durch Blitzenladungen, Zeits Angew. J. Phys. 9: 373–378MATHGoogle Scholar
  48. Triffet, T., and Green, H.S., 1980, Information and energy flow in a simple nervous system, J. Theor. Biol. 86: 3–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Vaccaro, S.R., and Green, H.S., 1979, Ionic processes in excitable membranes, J. Theor. Biol. 81: 771–802CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Valentino, A.R., 1972, Evaluation of the E-field simulator at UCLA, Washington, D.C., Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute, Tech. MemoGoogle Scholar
  51. Waltman, B., 1966, Electrical properties and fine structure of the ampullary canals of Lorenzini Acta Physiol. Scand. 66, Suppl. 264: 1–60Google Scholar
  52. Warnke, V., 1976, Effects of electric charges on honey bees. Bee World 57: 50–56Google Scholar
  53. Weyer, R., 1968, Einfluss schwacher elektro-magnetischer Felder auf die circadiane Periodik des Menschen Naturwissenschaften 55: 29–33Google Scholar
  54. Weyer, R., 1973, Human circadian rhythms under the influence of weak electric fields and the different aspect of these studies. Internat. J. Biometeorol. 17: 227–232ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weyer, R., 1974, ELF-effects on human circadian rhythms, in: “ELF and VLF Electromagnetic Field Effects”, Persinger, M.A., ed. Plenum, New York. pp. 101–144Google Scholar
  56. Weyer, R., 1975, The circadian multioscillatory system of man. Internat. J. Chronobiol. 3: 19–55Google Scholar
  57. Weyer, R., 1977, Effects of low-level, low-frequency fields on human circadian rhythms. Neurosci. Res. Program Bull. 15: 39–45Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Ross Adey
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Veterans Administration HospitalLoma LindaUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Physiology and SurgeryLoma Linda University, School of MedicineLoma LindaUSA

Personalised recommendations