Shhh. Do you hear that?
Last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Jose, CA, all eyes (and ears) were fixed on a new map from the National Park Service (NPS). The map, produced by researchers in the NPS Division of Natural Sounds and Night Skies, shows ambient noise levels across the U.S., from the most remote reaches of national parks to the busiest areas in major cities. Not surprisingly, some of the quietest areas (darker shades of blue on the map) are those deep in the heart of wild areas in the western U.S., and the noisiest (yellow on the map) tend to be in and around urban areas.
The map uses data from actual recordings (1.5 million hours worth from hundreds of sites nationwide) and factors such as climate, latitude and longitude, and ecosystem type to predict the average ambient noise levels for the entire contiguous U.S. The “soundscape” may not be the first thing most national park visitors notice, but it’s an important part of experiencing a wild area. An increase in manmade noise (including snowmobiles, scenic helicopter flights and noise from nearby roads) can interfere with opportunities for visitors to enjoy silence or to hear the natural soundtrack that makes a place unique (like bugling elk, chirping birds or flowing water). Noise also has the potential disrupt the normal behavior and distribution of wildlife.
Read about the science of sound waves in our module Waves and Wave Motion: Describing Waves.
Listen to some of the natural and cultural sounds that are part of the soundscapes of national parks.
Find out how the National Park Service manages soundscapes.
Written by Christine Hoekenga
Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.